- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

About 200 potential jurors were quizzed on their feelings about the death penalty in the murder trial of a former Navy intelligence officer accused of killing his estranged wife six years ago.
Jay Lentz, 43, of Greenfield, Ind., faces execution or life in prison if convicted. His trial, which began yesterday with the jury questioning, is the first of three at the federal courthouse in Alexandria over the next five months in which prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
The other two involve reputed September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and Brian Regan of Bowie, a retired Air Force sergeant accused of trying to spy for Iraq, Libya and China.
While the jury pool in Northern Virginia is generally considered favorable to prosecutors, no federal jury in Alexandria has ever sentenced a defendant to death, despite three opportunities in recent years.
So far this year, the Justice Department has authorized prosecutors to pursue the death penalty 21 times nationwide, according to Kevin McNally with the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel, an organization that provides assistance to defense attorneys assigned to federal capital cases. Mr. Lentz's case was one of 25 approved in 2001 for federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
Those statistics indicate that the Justice Department is seeking the death penalty about as often under Republican Attorney General John Ashcroft as it did under Democrat Janet Reno. Miss Reno approved 33 death-penalty cases in 1998, 34 in 1999, and 26 in 2000, according to Mr. McNally.
Bryan Sierra, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said the government does not disclose the number of death-penalty cases it pursues. He declined to comment on the numbers provided by the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel.
Prosecutors say Mr. Lentz, in the midst of divorcing Doris Lentz, lured her from her Arlington home to his home in Fort Washington and killed her.
Mrs. Lentz was 31 when she was last seen in April 1996, the day before a custody hearing. Her body has never been found, but police recovered her blood-soaked car in the District shortly after her disappearance.
Mr. Lentz was arrested at his home in Greenfield in April 2001 and is charged with kidnapping resulting in death, kidnapping and interstate domestic violence. Defense attorneys sought unsuccessfully last year to have the case thrown out of federal court, saying the interstate component of the crime was tenuous at best.
Mr. Lentz briefly introduced himself to the jury pool yesterday at the judge's request, saying, "Thank you for your time."
Jurors were asked to complete a 20-page questionnaire that included 10 questions about the death penalty and how often it should be applied.

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