- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2001

Federal prosecutors in Virginia want to seek the death penalty against Jay Edward Lentz, the former Maryland man and Navy intelligence officer charged with kidnapping and killing his ex-wife five years ago.
Kenneth Melson, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and another prosecutor yesterday afternoon laid their case out before high-level Justice Department officials in an attempt to win approval to pursue the death penalty against Mr. Lentz.
Mr. Lentz was indicted in May on charges of kidnapping, kidnapping resulting in death and interstate domestic violence resulting in death. His ex-wife, Doris Faye Lentz, disappeared on the evening of April 23, 1996. Her body has never been found.
The Justice Department's Capital Case Review Committee yesterday accepted oral and written arguments from Mr. Melson and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Mellin, as well as Mr. Lentz's two court-appointed defense attorneys.
The committee will send a recommendation to Attorney General John Ashcroft, and his decision is expected by an Aug. 31 status hearing, when attorneys and the judge will set a new trial date.
Defense attorneys Michael Lieberman and Frank Salvato argued that the death penalty is not appropriate because their client has no criminal background, an "exemplary military record" and a young daughter.
"We just don't feel the jurisdiction is even appropriate in the federal court, let alone going the extra step in seeking the death penalty against this guy, who in his 40-some years on this planet has done nothing criminally wrong and served his country in the military with an exemplary record," Mr. Salvato said.
Officials with the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to discuss the aggravating factors they used to argue for why the death penalty is appropriate.
But among the possible factors outlined in federal law, the likely reasons are that Mrs. Lentz was killed during the commission of another crime and that Mr. Lentz stood to gain financially, known as "pecuniary gain," according to court documents and police investigators.
In court documents, prosecutors say that Mrs. Lentz was tricked, or "inveigled," into leaving her Arlington home and driving to Fort Washington for what she thought was a trip to pick up their daughter from Mr. Lentz's home on April 23, 1996.
Julia Lentz, then four years old, had flown to visit Mr. Lentz's relatives in the Midwest several days prior to the planned pickup. Julia's return ticket, purchased by her father, was for April 27.
A bitter two-year divorce battle was settled in 1995, and Mr. Lentz faced significant alimony and child-support payments. Maryland authorities began garnishing his paycheck earlier in the same month that Mrs. Lentz vanished.
The case against Mr. Lentz faces some hurdles. The primary one is a lack of forensic evidence connecting him to the crime, unless authorities have not yet publicly disclosed incriminating information they possess.
But forensic investigators in May and June searched Mr. Lentz's former home in Fort Washington for the first time, and authorities are awaiting the lab results.
Mr. Lentz did not allow police to search his home after Mrs. Lentz vanished. After he moved to Indiana — where he lived until his arrest in May a Prince George's County police officer also refused investigators access to the house.
But the officer relented a few months ago, allowing forensic specialists to search for blood traces and chip up old concrete for possible clues.
The case is being closely watched in law enforcement circles because of the unique way prosecutors used a federal kidnapping charge.
Charging documents say Mrs. Lentz was not kidnapped in the traditional sense of being coerced — taken at gunpoint, for example. Rather, she was deceived — or inveigled, as the law puts it — into crossing state lines, thus putting the matter in the province of federal authorities, prosecutors charge in documents.
Defense attorneys challenged that interpretation and whether federal prosecutors even had jurisdiction in June, but a judge quashed their motions to have the charges dismissed.
Another federal judge ruled against the same prosecutors' office's use of the new kidnapping interpretation in a similar case last year, but the U.S. Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit overruled the judge and allowed the case to proceed toward trial later this year.

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