Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Court Affirms Kidnapping/Murder Conviction

US v. Lentz: Lentz was charged with kidnapping resulting in death stemming from the disappearance of his wife. The Govt theorized that Lentz lured his wife from her home in Virginia to his home in Maryland, where he then killed her.After trial, the district court granted Lentz's motion for a judgment of acquittal on the ground that the Govt failed to prove that Lentz "held" his wife for any period of time before killing her. The district court also granted Lentz's motion for a new trial due to two of the victim's dayplanners that had not been admitted into evidence popping up in the jury room. The district court went so far as to find that an AUSA had intentionally slipped the dayplanners, which contained notes from the victim detailing her abusive relationship with her husband, into the jury room to taint the jury. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the new trial motion and remanded for a new trial.

At a second trial, Lentz was again convicted, partly due to evidence of a murder for hire plot he hatched from jail against witnesses from the first trial and some of the AUSAs. Unfortunately, Lentz discussed the plot with a cellmate who turned informant. Even more unfortunately, Lentz discussed the plot with his attorney in phone calls from the jail that were recorded. Lentz moved to exclude evidence from both sources, with only partial success. While some of the informant's testimony was excluded because it came after a meeting with investigators that essentially turned him into a Government agent, testimony about earlier conversations with Lentz and the attorney phone calls were admitted.

Lentz raised several unsuccessful issues on appeal. First, he argued that the district court constructively amended the indictment by instructing the jury that, for purposes of the kidnapping statute, the District of Columbia was a "state." The Fourth Circuit rejected the argument that the district court's instruction amended the indictment, which alleged travel from Virginia to Maryland, holding that the indictment never required proof of travel directly from Virginia to Maryland, only that they be the starting and ending points. Second, Lentz argued that the district court erred by allowing any evidence of the murder-for-hire plot into evidence. As to the informant's testimony, the Fourth held that the statements from Lentz made prior to the informant becoming a de facto Government agent were not acquired in violation of the Sixth Amendment. As to the phone calls with his lawyer, the Fourth held that the calls fell clearly into the crime-fraud exception to the attorney-client privilege. The Fourth also rejected Lentz's argument that the statements were unduly prejudicial and that, in their redacted form as presented at trial, they violated the rule of completeness found in FRE 106. Third, the Fourth rejected Lentz's argument that hearsay statements made by his wife about the OJ Simpson case (i.e., that Lentz told her "if OJ can do it and get away with it, so can I") were admissible under the "forfeiture by wrongdoing" exception in FRE 804.

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