'Socially awkward'? Graduation rapist not guilty of stalking
Convicted rapist Jeffrey Kitze could stay in jail for another seven years– but not due to a stalking charge filed two years ago. A Charlottesville jury of five women and two men has acquitted the 51-year-old of stalking, despite GPS evidence showing he entered his accuser's house while she slept.
The jury bell rang around 11:30pm– about an hour-and-a-half after deliberations began in the extended daylong trial on August 7. The bailiff brought in neither a verdict nor a question, but an unsigned statement from the jurors: "We don't think he's guilty of stalking, but we don't want him on the street." The statement also said one juror using the principle of jury nullification found it to be a bad law.
Within five minutes, after requesting a new verdict form, the jurors issued their acquittal for the man infamous for what he did in 1989: rape and brutally beat his sister's roommate the day after the two women graduated from UVA Law School.
Kitze served 20 years in prison for that crime, and upon his release in January 2009, soon began causing trouble for women. He'd begun volunteering with Virginia Organizing, until he was ordered off the organization's property in a November 23, 2009, letter from executive director Joe Szakos for his "inappropriate" emails and interactions with interns, including showing up at their workplaces.
That same fall, Kitze crossed paths with Jennifer Connor, an activist and founder of Food Not Bombs, an organization that prepares meals and distributes groceries to the needy. Kitze and Connor each were traveling on bicycles and stopped at the same traffic signal, and Kitze asked if she were the same Jennifer Connor he'd seen on a public access television show. She testified that the encounter made her feel "fearful."
Kitze then began volunteering for Food Not Bombs, and Connor told the jury of her discomfort with him staring and telling her that he had a great body. Connor allegedly warned Kitze about using the nonprofit organization to find a date.
Then in November 2009, he showed up unexpectedly outside her house. Shortly after, Connor had planned a group cooking event at her house on November 14, and received nine phone calls in one day from Kitze. She testified that she told him, "Don't call me again."
Kitze's defense attorney called his client "socially awkward" but certainly not a stalker. The lawyer portrayed the volunteer activities as evidence of Kitze's desire to reintegrate into society and pointed out that Kitze would continue to get invited to Connor's house for Food Not Bombs events.
However, Kitze's probation officer, Jeff Lenert, offered Global Positioning System evidence that showed Kitze walking or driving by Connor's residence on one-way Nalle Street a dozen times between November 2009 and the following March. Kitze got the GPS ankle monitor after he was banned from Virginia Organizing.
And on Valentine's Day 2010, the GPS tracking showed a blue dot– representing Kitze– suggesting that he actually entered Connor's house. Alone, asleep, and nursing a broken rib, Connor testified, she later awoke to find chocolates on her kitchen table with a card signed, "Food Not Bombs."
Lenert testified about conversations he'd conducted with the problematic probationer.
"There were two specific issues," said Lenert. "One, he was showing up uninvited at women's places of employment; and, two, his method of communicating in a sexual way– an almost childish approach– was frightening."
Even before barring Kitze from Virginia Organizing, Szakos had warned him about approaching college interns and testified that the man about 30 years older than the objects of his interest responded, "These women are totally attracted to me."
By March 2010, after a Tonsler Park outburst that one trial witness called "alarming and embarrassing," Kitze was asked to "take a break" from his participation in Food Not Bombs. It was about that time that Connor learned about his notorious past, the violent sexual assault that put him in prison.
"Run as fast as you can," Connor remembered Szakos telling her.
After Kitze was arrested in May 2010 for a probation violation because he continued to send emails to Virginia Organizing volunteers, he began writing Connor multi-page letters from Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail. One June 25 missive from that year asserted that his two decades behind bars stemmed from "something I'm not guilty of doing." A page later, Connor testified, Kitze noted he'd "be a good lover."
While Kitze did not take the stand and called no witnesses of his own, his attorney, Charles Weber, characterized the letters as evidence Kitze was merely confused about getting sent back to jail and that he was asking for Connor's help. Webber noted that his client complied with Connor's requests to back off and told the jury in his closing argument that if she were truly fearful of Kitze, she should have told him.
"Despicable," rebutted Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Claude Worrell. "Why is it that woman's responsibility to tell him he's crossing the line?"
Worrell continued: "[Weber] tells you now it's her fault she's being stalked? You've got to be kidding."
Virginia adopted a stalking law in 1992, and the statute defines the Class 1 misdemeanor as conduct on more than one occasion when the violator "knows or reasonably should know that the conduct places that other person in reasonable fear of death, criminal sexual assault, or bodily injury to that other person or to that other person's family or household member..."
Worrell called the verdict "disappointing," and wondered if the jury– which left the courthouse without verbal comment– struggled over the "knows or reasonably should know" part of the statute.
"That's the only avenue I can see," said Worrell, "for them finding him not guilty."
In a judge's verdict, Kitze previously was convicted of stalking on January 10, 2010 in Charlottesville General District Court. He appealed, and this trial overturns that conviction.
Kitze's parents, Theodore and Mary Ann Kitze, were in court again for their son, having driven nine hours from upstate New York. His father said he was not surprised by the verdict.
"I feel he's been very poorly treated since he's been down here," said Ted Kitze.
Kitze remains in jail on a parole violation with his expected release date currently set for November 21, 2019, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.
However, with his recent acquittal, that date could change.
Correction 8/13 of the jury statement to the judge and its reference to jury nullification.