A federal jury convicted a former naval intelligence officer from Fort Washington of kidnapping resulting in death yesterday for the disappearance of his ex-wife in 1996.
The jury of eight women and four men found that Jay Lentz, 43, lured his ex-wife, Doris Lentz, 31, to his home on the pretense of picking up their daughter, Julia, then 4. Mrs. Lentz’s body was never found.
Prosecutors argued that Lentz’s motive was to end a contentious relationship and relieve himself of more than $40,000 he owed Mrs. Lentz in child support.
Lentz could be sentenced to death. Jurors are scheduled to return to U.S. District Court in Alexandria on Monday to begin the penalty phase of the trial.
Julia Lentz was in the courtroom watching as her father listened to the verdict yesterday morning. After it was read, Lentz shook his head a few times, but his relatives and those of Mrs. Lentz showed no reaction.
The jury issued a verdict less than an hour after convening for the first time in nearly two weeks.
Jurors sent U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee a note June 23 saying they were deadlocked, but he urged them to continue working. The panel resumed deliberations the next day without reaching a verdict and agreed to reconvene when Judge Lee returned from a scheduled vacation.
Mrs. Lentz was last seen April 23, 1996. Friends testified that she left her apartment in Crystal City to pick up the couple’s daughter from Mr. Lentz’s house in Fort Washington.
Mrs. Lentz was a former congressional aide for the Paralyzed Veterans of America when she disappeared. She married Mr. Lentz in 1989, and the couple was divorced in 1995.
Most of the evidence in the case was circumstantial, including testimony that Lentz abused his ex-wife. The prosecution’s main piece of evidence was a nickel-size drop of Lentz’s blood in Mrs. Lentz’s car.
Mrs. Lentz’s blood-spattered 1994 Toyota Celica was found in a high-crime neighborhood in the District five days after her disappearance, with her keys and purse inside. However, two DNA experts who testified for the defense said they could not find Lentz’s blood, even with the help of ultraviolet light and magnification.
Defense attorneys suggested to the jury that Mrs. Lentz was the victim of a carjacking.
Prosecutors, however, called Lentz an “abusive, controlling, manipulative” husband.
At the time of his ex-wife’s disappearance, Lentz was a salesman at Dictaphone in Tysons Corner. The day after his ex-wife disappeared, April 24, he and his ex-wife were scheduled to show up at a custody hearing in a Maryland court.
One of Lentz’s coworkers, Joy Fosher, testified that Lentz told her “he would kill [Mrs. Lentz] before he let her take his child.”
“He was dead serious,” Mrs. Fosher said.
Mrs. Lentz left her apartment April 23, intending to pick up Julia at Lentz’s house. Prosecutors said Lentz had sent Julia to Indiana to visit his parents.
An airline employee testified that travel records showed that Julia was not due to return from Indiana for four more days.
“He wanted his little daughter out of town so he could take care of business in town,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Mellin told the jury during closing arguments last month.
The day before Mrs. Lentz disappeared, Lentz stopped mail delivery to his home and asked a real estate agent to stop showing his house to potential buyers.
In an interview last year, Lentz told The Washington Post that he found out April 23 that his daughter would not be returning until two days later and called his ex-wife to tell her. He said he did not know where Mrs. Lentz had gone the evening of April 23.
After Mrs. Lentz disappeared, Lentz and Julia moved to Greenfield, Indiana, where he taught at Greenfield Central High School until December 2000.
In April 2001, he was indicted and taken into custody in Indiana by Arlington County Police and FBI agents. Since then, he had been held in Alexandria jail.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.