U.S. Judge Overturns Conviction of Lentz; Sees No Evidence of Kidnapping

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A federal judge yesterday acquitted a former naval intelligence officer from Fort Washington of kidnapping resulting in death for the 1996 disappearance of his ex-wife.

U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee ruled there was no evidence that Jay Lentz, 43, held or detained Doris Lentz as part of a kidnapping.

Without that element, the case was not a federal crime, the judge ruled.

It marked the first time a federal judge had overturned a jury's verdict in a modern death-penalty case and ordered an acquittal, a legal analyst said.

"There is no evidence Jay Lentz held or detained Ms. Lentz as a part of a kidnapping. This fatal flaw requires the Court ... to dismiss this case," Judge Lee wrote in a 55-page ruling.

A hearing will be held Tuesday to determine whether Mr. Lentz will be released on bail.Paul J. McNulty, U.S. attorney for Virginia's Eastern District, said the government will appeal the judge's decision.

"The judge's ruling overrides the jury's careful and lengthy deliberation and guilty verdict in this case. We will be filing our notice of appeal at the appropriate time and will do everything possible to hold Mr. Lentz accountable for his actions," he said.

Mrs. Lentz, 31, disappeared on April 23, 1996, after leaving her Crystal City apartment for what friends testified was a trip to Mr. Lentz's Fort Washington home to pick up their daughter, Julia, who was then 4.

Mrs. Lentz's blood-spattered car was found in the District five days later, with her keys and purse inside. Her body has not been found.

Federal prosecutors argued that Mr. Lentz lured Mrs. Lentz to his home to kill her to end a quarrelsome relationship and to relieve himself of more than $40,000 he owed in child support. Prosecutors argued Mrs. Lentz thought she was picking up Julia when in fact Mr. Lentz had sent the girl to his parents' house in Indiana.

However, Judge Lee ruled that federal prosecutors did not prove that Mr. Lentz committed the federal offense of kidnapping.

"The government failed to prove an essential element of the crime ... that Ms. Lentz was held in connection to her alleged murder," he wrote in the ruling.

Prosecutors pursued a case against Mr. Lentz for kidnapping, not murder, because they lacked concrete evidence of Mrs. Lentz's murder.

Judge Lee said in his ruling that the Federal Kidnapping Act requires a showing that the victim was held or detained as part of the kidnapping. The act was passed after the infamous kidnapping in 1932 of aviator Charles Lindbergh's baby. …