Thursday, July 12, 2001 10:30 a.m.
Former lover recounts affair with Kristine
Robert Brown's credibility questioned by defense
by Bill D'Agostino
Palo Alto murder victim Kristine Fitzhugh's former lover testified
in her husband's murder trial yesterday saying the two had a longtime
affair that produced a son, Justin Fitzhugh.
Robert Brown told jurors in a packed Palo Alto courtroom that
during a telephone conversation in December 1999 or January 2000,
Kristine invited him to Justin's upcoming college graduation. She
also told him that she planned to finally tell Justin the true identity
of his biological father.
Kristine Fitzhugh was murdered in her home on May 5, 2000 - two
weeks before Justin's graduation from the University of the Pacific
in Stockton. Kristine's husband, Kenneth Fitzhugh, is on trial for
his wife's murder.
The prosecution is arguing that Kenneth Fitzhugh killed his wife
of 33 years to bury the secret about Justin's paternity. Brown's
testimony is essential to prove this theory, but his credibility
was damaged in court.
On the stand, Brown admitted that he's a disbarred attorney with
a criminal past (including a felony for auto theft). Also, his version
of events during the trial often contradicted earlier statements
he made to police and investigators.
In direct examination by Deputy District Attorney Michael Fletcher,
Brown recounted the entire history of his complicated relationship
with the Fitzhugh family.
Robert Kenneth Brown met the married but still childless Kristine
and Kenneth Fitzhugh in the late 1960s when both men worked for
Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical in San Diego.
Occasional dinners among the three quickly became habitual, Brown
recalled; eventually they spent most of their weekends together.
"I became a part of their lives, they became a part of mine,"
Over time, the trio jointly purchased boats, real estate, and
stock. They also gave each other nicknames. Brown was called the
"aardvark," Kristine, the "snake," and Kenneth, the "weasel."
But underneath the friendship, a secret romantic and sexual relationship
developed between Kristine and Brown. That union eventually resulted
in the conceiving of a child, Justin, who was raised by both Kristine
and Kenneth Fitzhugh.
Brown testified that when Kristine was pregnant, she told him
she hadn't had sex with anyone else for the four months around the
time of the baby's conception. According to Brown, she had also
intentionally stopped taking birth control.
Brown never knew for certain that he was Justin's biological father,
however, until DNA tests were performed after Kristine's death.
He did mention that he always knew the truth in his heart.
In 1996, Brown put Justin in his will, calling him "my son." Kristine
Fitzhugh is also listed, described as "mother of Justin." If Kenneth
Fitzhugh is in the will, Brown did not note it while reading sections
of the document to the jury.
Brown said that he never told Kenneth Fitzhugh of the affair,
even as he vacationed with the entire Fitzhugh family.
Over the years, a lifestyle that included heavy drug and alcohol
use began to take its toll on Brown's life.
"I lost my business, I lost my home, eventually I lost my best
friends," Brown said on the stand. "I have no one to blame but myself."
Despite the fact that the Fitzhughs had paid for drug and alcohol
treatments for Brown, they eventually resorted to a firm ultimatum
to help him: clean up or get out of their lives.
Brown said that the family "cared for me too much to stand by
and watch me kill myself." Justin in particular, Brown recalled,
was adamant for him to keep his promise.
However, in a trip with the Fitzhughs in June 1994, Brown slipped
up again, drinking and using drugs. The family promptly cut off
That trip would be the last time Brown saw Kristine, but Brown
said in court that years later he heard from her in a brief but
dramatic phone call.
In December 1999, Brown sent a postcard to the Fitzhugh home saying
that he had moved. He included his new phone number as well as a
note saying that he was clean.
Brown recounted that shortly thereafter, Kristine called him in
a very brief conversation and told him of Justin's upcoming graduation
as well as her plans to finally tell her son the truth.
Six months later, however, the popular Palo Alto music teacher
was dead, brutally murdered in her own home.
Brown said that he went into shock when he first heard the news
about Kristine, whom he called the closest friend he ever had.
"I couldn't believe it," he said. "I thought it was impossible,
a strange joke."
At that time, Brown was still recovering from a severe motorcycle
accident. While he was in the hospital, doctors told him that he
would never walk again. Although he's now mobile, he relies on a
wooden cane to get around.
In the days and weeks following Kristine's death, Brown spoke
with Palo Alto police investigators. He admitted in court, however,
that at that time his mind was cluttered with pain medication, including
codeine, morphine, and drugs to control his diabetes. His accounts
of events from those early interviews, he admitted, were fraught
with errors and omissions.
Most critically, he admitted to failing to alert police about
the phone conversation he now claims to have had with Kristine regarding
her plans to disclose Justin's true paternity.
Brown gave a plethora of reasons to the jury why he didn't initially
tell police about the call: He didn't think it was important. He
was never asked the question directly. He was under the influence
of heavy medication.
Kenneth Fitzhugh's attorney, Thomas Nolan, tried to get Brown
to admit that he had told the truth earlier to investigators: that
Kristine said she was never going to reveal the truth to Justin.
Brown, however, stuck by the story he gave to the prosecution:
that the two had often discussed it in the past, and that Kristine
always said that she would tell Justin the truth "when he was old
Brown was expected to continue to be on the stand most of Thursday.
Earlier witnesses this week included Robert Brown's aunt, Janet
Moore, who testified to Brown's confused state of mind after the
murder because of pain medication; a woman who worked at the golf
course where Kenneth Fitzhugh said he was when his wife was murdered;
police investigators who handled evidence such as tennis shoes at
the murder scene and testified they found evidence of blood in every
room of the home; the Fitzhugh's maid who said she cleaned the home
the Monday before the murder; crime lab technicians who discovered
Kenneth Fitzhugh's bloody shirt in his car.