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They are adversaries by trade, but prosecutors and defense lawyers usually keep their relations cordial and professional. In the drawn-out saga of Jay Lentz’s federal kidnapping trial, however, the sparring between the teams turned ugly and personal. Last week, the latest and most serious allegations Lentz’s defense team have levelled against the prosecution — jury contamination — played out in a two-day evidentiary hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. At issue was how two of the victim’s date books containing information incriminating to Lentz, but not accepted into evidence, made it into the jury room during deliberations last summer. The defense alleges jury tampering and demands a new trial. While acknowledging that the jury improperly received the date books, the government denies any tampering and argues that the information did not prejudice the jury. Defense lawyers Michael Lieberman and Frank Salvato had accused Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Mellin of planting evidence and of having an undisclosed relationship with the victim. Judge Gerald Bruce Lee rejected the allegations. The jury contamination issue, though, warranted a hearing. The date books were in the box of evidence that had been in the jury room. And less than a week after the jury sentenced Lentz to life in prison, three jurors contacted defense lawyers with concerns about the date books. Everyone who was in the room while the evidence was sorted after trial testified last week, including all the lawyers and Judge Lee’s courtroom clerk, Johanna Solomon, and court security officer, William Scruggs. Both have worked in Judge Lee’s courtroom since he took the bench in 1998. Everyone who testified denied knowing how the date books wound up with the jury. Accusations of jury tampering are rare; they’re the stuff of television shows, not the Alexandria Federal Courthouse. On the first day of the hearing, spectators, mostly lawyers, packed Courtroom 700. The procession of bar members and court employees to and from the witness stand rendered the scene slightly surreal — but then, it has been an unusual case from the beginning. On April 24, 2001, Lentz was indicted on federal charges that he lured his ex-wife, Doris, across state lines and caused her death. Prosecutors employed a novel interpretation of the federal kidnapping statute to surmount the absence of a body and lack of clear venue — problems that had thwarted a state murder prosecution since Doris’ 1996 disappearance. A few days into voir dire in September 2002, the government filed an interlocutory appeal that further delayed the trial. The case finally went to trial in June 2003. After five days of deliberation, the jury said it was deadlocked. Judge Lee asked the jurors to keep trying. They had not yet reached a verdict the next day when Lee recessed court for a previously scheduled 10-day break. Within hours of reconvening, the jurors returned a guilty verdict. Lee, however, set it aside on the grounds that the prosecution failed to prove Lentz’s guilt. Lee said he welcomed appellate review of his decision. On July 25, the same day the government filed its notice of appeal, Lentz’s lawyers filed their motion alleging jury contamination and seeking a new trial. On the stand, attorneys from both sides acknowledged the acrimonious tone of the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Haynes noted that she had “reservations” about rejoining the trial team when she returned from maternity leave because of the hostility between the defense and prosecutor Mellin. Federal Public Defender Frank Dunham, who represented the defense side, spent considerable time questioning Michael Chellis, a paralegal for the government in the case. Dunham also grilled Special Agent Brad Garrett of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Arlington County Police Department Sgt. John Cole. The latter two, he noted, had spent seven years on the Lentz case, and all had been involved in sorting evidence before it went to the jury. Mellin testified he was out of the courtroom for about half an hour while the evidence was sorted. “I thought I had personnel in place making sure the evidence was properly sorted,” he said. Dunham argued later that Lee “does not have to name one person.” The “salient” point, Dunham said, is that the jury used improper evidence to reach its verdict. AUSA Vincent Gambale, an appellate specialist, countered that the information in the date books was “innocuous.” Lee said he would accept further briefing, though he did not give a timetable or say when he might rule.

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