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Kristine Fitzhugh Case

Uploaded: Friday, 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.

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
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.

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, he said.

"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 lover.

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 fianc»e.

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 year's events.

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