October 12, 2001, 6:30 a.m.
Fitzhugh receives 15 years to life
Judge calls it one of the worst crimes he's seen
in his career
by Pam Sturner
Concluding a tragic chapter in local history, former Palo Alto
real estate consultant Kenneth Fitzhugh was sentenced Wednesday
to 15 years to life in prison for murdering his wife, Kristine.
As a silent Fitzhugh listened and took notes, Justice Franklin
Elia reflected on the defendant's lack of remorse as he handed down
the harshest sentence allowed under the law.
Noting that even "gorillas in the wild show trauma at the loss
of their mates," Elia said he had little sympathy in the face of
Fitzhugh's "stoic indifference" and would have imposed a harsher
sentence had it been within the law.
Justice Franklin Elia hands down the harshest
sentence the law allows as defendant Kenneth Fitzhugh (right)
and attorney Tom Nolan listen.
Illustration by Joan Lynch
A justice in the Sixth District Court of Appeal appointed to handle
the case, Elia said he was still haunted by the images of Kristine
Fitzhugh presented during the trial. The viciousness of the murder
made it one of the worst crimes he has seen in 20 years on the bench,
"I am astonished that this individual has shown no remorse. His
family will continue to be distressed by his position," Elia said.
After a complex trial involving copious forensic evidence and
testimony about the family's private life, a jury found Fitzhugh,
58, guilty of second-degree murder Aug. 2.
Kristine Fitzhugh was found beaten and strangled in the basement
of the family's Southgate home on May 5, 2000. Police initially
ruled her death an accident but soon revised their assessment. Based
on a coroner's report and their own investigation of the house with
the blood-detecting chemical Luminol, they determined that Kristine
Fitzhugh was murdered in the kitchen. They then concluded the murderer
moved her to the basement stairs to create the impression she had
fallen and hit her head on a decorative ship's bell.
Palo Alto police arrested Kenneth Fitzhugh on May 23, 2000.
During the trial, prosecutor Michael Fletcher argued that Fitzhugh
killed his wife of 33 years after learning she planned to tell their
older son, Justin, 24, that his biological father was her former
Before the sentencing, Fitzhugh's attorney, Tom Nolan, seemed
to still be attempting to try the case. He asked Elia for permission
to test a piece of wallboard for foreign DNA, which he sought in
order to prove his theory that someone else committed the murder.
Fletcher objected, arguing that adequate testing had been done
during the trial.
Shaking his head in impatience, Elia called Nolan's request "unfair"
to Fitzhugh and "disrespectful to the judicial process."
"I have opened every door possible to let (Fitzhugh) have his
day in court," Elia said. He nonetheless granted both sides 10 days
to explain why the tests should or should not be allowed.
Nolan also objected to Fletcher's call for Fitzhugh to confess
in the months before the sentencing. "The comments made by the district
attorney to the press about whether my client should be making statements
of remorse were inappropriate," he told the judge.
Under the sentence Fitzhugh will become eligible for parole in
15 years and has earned credit for the 510 days he has already served.
He will be sent to San Quentin Prison for classification and then
transferred to another facility within 60 to 90 days.
In addition to $10,000 in restitution fines, Elia also ordered
him to pay $4,060 for counseling for Fitzhugh's son Justin and Justin's
Unlike the trial, the sentencing drew only a small group of observers.
Neither Justin nor the Fitzhughs' other son, John, 21, was in attendance.
Fletcher told reporters afterwards that he was satisfied with
the sentencing. "I'm proud the system worked," he said, adding that
he hoped the Fitzhugh sons would someday find peace out of the last