- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Attorneys for a former naval intelligence officer facing a second kidnapping and murder trial in the death of his ex-wife will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate an earlier acquittal.

Jay Lentz, 45, of Greenfield, Ind., who has been jailed since his April 2001 arrest, yesterday was back in U.S. District Court in Alexandria for the first time since the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ordered a new trial.

The case has taken an unusual number of twists and turns, including accusations by a federal judge that a prosecutor planted inadmissible evidence in the jury room, a charge later repudiated by the appeals court.

Last year, after six days of deliberations, a jury convicted Mr. Lentz in the 1996 kidnapping and killing of Doris Lentz, a one-time congressional aide to Sen. James Sasser of Tennessee.

Mrs. Lentz’s body has not been found, but her blood-soaked car was discovered in the District shortly after her disappearance.

Prosecutors sought the death penalty, but the jury elected to impose life in prison, and seven jurors indicated that residual doubt about Mr. Lentz’s guilt was a factor in the decision against the death penalty.

Shortly after the jury’s verdict, U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee overturned the jury’s verdict and ordered an acquittal. He said prosecutors had failed to prove that Mrs. Lentz had been kidnapped, which was necessary to bring the case in federal court.

Then, defense attorneys learned that the jurors had seen two of Mrs. Lentz’s diaries that the judge had ruled inadmissible. Several jurors said the diary entries were crucial in their guilty verdict.

Judge Lee ordered a hearing to discover who was responsible for revealing the evidence and eventually accused lead prosecutor Steven Mellin of planting the evidence.

The appeals court stepped in this summer. It ruled that Judge Lee’s accusation against Mr. Mellin was unfounded and prohibited Judge Lee from presiding over the retrial because of possible prejudice against the government.

The appeals court also ruled in a split decision that Judge Lee was incorrect to order an acquittal on the kidnapping statute. But they agreed with Judge Lee that the planted evidence warranted a mistrial and new trial.

Yesterday, Mr. Lentz’s attorney, Frank Salvato, said he will appeal to the Supreme Court to reinstate the acquittal based on the requirements of the kidnapping statute.

Mr. Salvato also is asking that the trial be moved to Richmond because of publicity the case has received in Northern Virginia.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III set a tentative trial date of Jan. 31, but that could be delayed. Defense attorneys said they hope to resolve their petition to the Supreme Court before starting a new trial.

Mr. Salvato said after the hearing that he is optimistic that the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case.

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