Kristine Fitzhugh Case

Uploaded: Thursday, Aug. 2, 2001, 5:30 p.m

Fitzhugh found guilty of killing his wife
Jury votes for second-degree murder

by Bill D'Agostino and Elizabeth Lorenz

A Palo Alto jury found Kenneth Fitzhugh guilty Thursday of second-degree murder in the bludgeoning death of his wife of three decades, Kristine.


The Fitzhugh sons, Justin (left, pictured with fiancee Angelina Whitehall) and John (right) exit the courtroom after the verdict.
Photo by Robert Bradshaw
The jury of six men and six women deliberated three days before coming back with the verdict Thursday afternoon. Shortly before 4 p.m., the court clerk read the verdict: not guilty of first degree murder, guilty of second degree murder.

Fitzhugh was arrested two weeks after the May 5, 2000 murder of his wife, Kristine, in the kitchen of their Southgate home. The prosecution contended that Fitzhugh was angry because he found out his wife planned to tell their eldest son, Justin, that his biological father was a longtime family friend.

Police found evidence that Kristine Fitzhugh had come home with coffee and a snack and was in her kitchen when she was attacked, hit on the head seven times, and strangled. A chemical revealed evidence of blood splattered throughout the kitchen.

The jury found that Fitzhugh's act was done without premeditation.

Fitzhugh, wearing a suit, smiled and waved at his two sons, Justin and John, as he walked into the courtroom. Several jurors looked directly at Fitzhugh as they filed into the courtroom, but he looked straight ahead during the entire proceeding.

As the verdict was read, the Fitzhugh sons held hands, while their father continued staring straight ahead, showing no visible reaction.

Superior Court Judge Franklin Elia scheduled Fitzhugh's sentencing hearing for Oct. 10. Fitzhugh could receive a maximum sentence of 15 years to life in prison. The minimum amount he will serve is 85 percent of 15 years.

Jurors filed out of a courtroom side door. All chose not to speak with the media.

"Somewhere in here there is a lesson," said Deputy District Attorney Michael Fletcher, referring to murder cases involving husbands and wives.

The prosecutor said he was "personally satisfied" with the verdict.

"There was an overwhelming amount of physical evidence in this case," he said.

He thanked the Palo Alto Police Department. "They kept their heads above the fray," he said.

Palo Alto Police Sgt. Mike Denson, who attended the verdict in uniform, would not comment specifically on the jury's ruling, but he did answer a defense accusation that police rushed into deciding Fitzhugh had murdered his wife, rather than considering an intruder.

"I can't see where he got the rush to judgment. I took 14 days to arrest this guy."

Referring to Fitzhugh's two sons, Fletcher said he hoped that "somewhere down the road" they "find a safe harbor for this."

Defense attorney Thomas Nolan said his client wanted to thank his supporters.

"He is convinced of his vindication. He will pursue that vindication. That's what he wanted me to say," Nolan said.

"I had faith in this jury," Nolan added.

Fletcher's case rested on three pieces of evidence: tennis shoes, a bloody shirt and a towel, all covered with the blood of Kristine Fitzhugh. All three items were found in Fitzhugh's sport-utility vehicle on the day of the murder.

Fletcher also poked holes into Fitzhugh's alibi that he was in South San Francisco during the time the murder was committed. Witnesses from a cellular telephone company testified that calls Fitzhugh received that afternoon went through an antenna on University Avenue in Palo Alto, meaning Fitzhugh had to be in the local area.

Fitzhugh took the stand himself, saying he discovered his wife's body with two of her friends on the afternoon of May 5, 2000. Instead, Fletcher said Fitzhugh had feigned his innocence in front of the two women.

Fletcher also called paramedics, who arrived on the scene and attempted to revive Kristine. As they worked over his wife's body, one testified, Fitzhugh seemed surprisingly detached.

Defense Attorney Thomas Nolan contended that an intruder had found Kristine in the basement and killed her, making it look like she had fallen down the basement stairs.

Adam Levermore-Rich contributed to this story.