- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2001

Three die-hard lawmen saw to it that the ex-husband of Doris Faye Lentz was brought in handcuffs to face a judge today on charges he killed the Arlington mother five years ago.
The answer to the prayers of Mrs. Lentzs family may take five years to be granted, but it looks as if they will be.
Jay Edward Lentz, a former naval intelligence officer, will be arraigned this morning in Federal District Court in Alexandria under a little-known federal law that carries the death penalty. He is expected to plead not guilty.
The case against Mr. Lentz is a tale of three lawmen who never gave up on finding Mrs. Lentzs killer, painstakingly following leads over the years until they were able to support an unusual charge against Mr. Lentz — who moved from Maryland to Indiana after Mrs. Lentzs suspicious disappearance in 1996 — interstate domestic violence resulting in death. He also is charged with kidnapping and kidnapping resulting in death.
The case is still layered with mystery. Police and relatives assume she is dead, though her body has never been found. That Mrs. Lentz, 31, met foul play is clear. The Arlington woman, a former Senate aide, disappeared on April 23, 1996. A week later, her car was found in Southeast, keys inside and the front seat covered in her blood. She has not been seen or heard from since.
The three men who built the case against Mr. Lentz are FBI Special Agent Brad Garrett, Arlington Detective John Coale and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Mellin. Tired of getting nowhere, the three gathered at an Alexandria office early this year to examine the mounds of paperwork on the investigation and the merits of the case, "to find a different way to attack the situation," said Mr. Mellin.
Mr. Garrett, known as "Dr. Death" in law enforcement circles for his work on homicides, handled the Starbucks triple-murder case in the District and led the team that retrieved from Pakistan the man who killed three persons in front of CIA headquarters in 1994.
The Lentzes relationship in the years before her disappearance will play a large part in the trial.
Their bitter divorce and child-custody battles in court show a financial motive for having Mrs. Lentz, who worked on Capitol Hill and then for Paralyzed Veterans of America, out of the picture. The courts ruled against Mr. Lentz on custody and child-support payments, and when he was found to be in arrears on payments, the state began garnishing his paycheck.
She suffered physical and emotional abuse at the hands of Mr. Lentz, according to police and court records, as well as friends who spoke with The Washington Times. Messages Mr. Lentz left on his ex-wifes answering machine are expected to paint a pattern of harassment, sources told The Times.
Detective Coale, the investigator assigned to the Lentz case — back when it was being treated as a missing persons case, not a homicide — had his hands full the first year. With the blood-soaked car in one jurisdiction and a suspect living in a second jurisdiction, he faced more than his share of hurdles. His prime suspect, Mr. Lentz, talked only briefly to police and refused to answer further questions.
Mr. Mellin prosecuted some of the Districts most difficult homicides at the height of the drug wars before he was assigned to Virginia.
Together, they found a way to bypass all the problems that stymied police for five years: the involvement of three jurisdictions, little forensic evidence, no body and an uncooperative former husband. "That makes it tough for a straight-up murder charge," Mr. Mellin said. "… youre a little hamstrung."
The federal charge of interstate domestic violence is specifically geared to beat those problems. It works with a broader interpretation of kidnapping that includes forcing or tricking someone to cross a state line before making them a victim of violence. "That (recognizes) theres a lot of ways to kidnap a person," Mr. Mellin said.
On April 23, 1996, Mrs. Lentz departed her Arlington home after dusk and during a rainstorm to pick up her daughter, Julia, then 4 years old, from Mr. Lentzs house in Fort Washington. Travel records, however, indicate Julia was in Indiana with Mr. Lentzs relatives at that time, according to sources familiar with the case.
"This is a case where we gathered a lot of pieces of information that when we recently laid them out and looked at them, and we added to them some pieces we gathered in the last couple months, we believed we had the elements to meet the federal kidnapping statute," Mr. Garrett said. A federal grand jury agreed and indicted Mr. Lentz last month. Then Mr. Garrett, federal agents in Indiana, Detective Coale and Hancock County Sheriffs deputies arrested Mr. Lentz at his home outside Greenfield, Ind., on April 30.
Authorities kept in touch with Mrs. Lentzs relatives over the years, updating them on progress or just calling to reassure the investigation continued. Charles Butt, Mrs. Lentzs brother, said he held respect for Detective Coale and Mr. Garrett in particular for "their professionalism and diligence."
"Even if there was nothing on the case, theyd call and reassure us that it hadnt been stuck in the dead-end file," said Mr. Butt, of Auburn, Ala.
Authorities acknowledge the case is largely circumstantial, yet much of the evidence supporting the federal charges is broad and publicly available in court records.
Mr. Lentz "on diverse days and times since their marriage has treated (Mrs. Lentz) with extreme cruelty and has been guilty of excessively vicious conduct toward her," states one of the pages in the mountainous divorce testimony filed in Prince Georges County Circuit Court.
That docket is a flurry of motions and countermotions, challenges and exceptions that dragged on, even after Mrs. Lentz disappeared. The divorce took more than two years. Mr. Lentz burned through three attorneys. One, Patricia McCarthy-Riegel, sent Mr. Lentz a separate letter, not in court records, explaining why she withdrew.
After Mr. Lentz retained Stephen A. Friedman of Greenbelt, the docket grew with challenges and motions to previously settled agreements.
Mr. Friedmans partner, Fred Joseph, successfully shielded Mr. Lentz from police questions after Mrs. Lentzs disappearance.
Relatives were glad when told of Mr. Lentzs arrest. Now they must gird themselves for what could be a lengthy trial. "Weve been waiting for over five years," Mr. Butt said. "Theres no need to get in a hurry at this point."
He said he likely will accompany his mother, Bernice "Gene" Butt of Millington, Tenn., to Alexandria when the trial begins. Now, theyre settling in "for what could be a very long-term process," said Sara Stine, Mrs. Lentzs sister, who lives in Memphis.
"I think many of us have the viewpoint that were going to sit back and let justice do what justice has to do. Im glad to see this starting, but Im preparing for a long process."


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide