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Not Guilty Plea Entered in Fake Explosives Case

An ex-mail carrier freed after three mistrials in wife's death in Palmdale faces the new charges.

May 02, 2003|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

For eight years, Jack and Betty Wells have anguished over the unsolved slaying of their daughter -- and feared that a killer remained at large.

In 1995, three hung juries failed to convict their son-in-law, Jeffrey Peitz, of the crime. But this week Peitz, 47, was arrested again, this time for allegedly planting fake bombs at a Lancaster post office.

Initially, the Wellses hoped the new investigation would provide evidence that would revive the dormant murder case, but prosecutors Thursday said that was a long shot. Now the Riverside couple are hoping they will see some punishment for a man they no longer trust.

"He's going to be getting his due, just for something else," said Betty Wells, 71.

"There's no love lost, honestly," her husband added.

Peitz, a former mail carrier, pleaded not guilty Thursday in Antelope Valley Superior Court to six counts of placing false bombs. Deputy Dist. Atty. John Portillo said the first package was found in December 2000. Despite threatening messages on the outside, the packages were filled with soap, Portillo said.

The first package turned up six months after Peitz was fired from his postal job, Portillo said, though Peitz's attorney said his client voluntarily resigned.

Peitz, who remained in custody Thursday in lieu of $5 million bail, could face up to six years and four months in prison if convicted of the bomb charges. A preliminary hearing is set for May 14.

Describing the case against his client as flimsy, defense attorney Richard Plotin said that prosecutors are focusing on Peitz now because he was not convicted in the murder case.

"They still believe that he is responsible for his wife's death eight years ago. And I think that because of that ... they're pointing the finger at him," Plotin said. "It's not fair to this individual or his family. It's really not fair to our society to do that to somebody, but this is what we're faced with."

Technically, the murder case remains open, though Portillo said detectives have not had a break in years. In each of the three trials, a majority of jurors favored a guilty verdict, but a unanimous vote was required for conviction.

On Thursday, Portillo -- who was the prosecutor in the 1995 trials -- said Peitz remains the main murder suspect.

"There's no doubt in my mind he did it, and I think I came pretty close to proving it three times," he said. "But I just couldn't get over the top, as far as a minority of the jurors were concerned."

Peitz has repeatedly denied any involvement in his wife's death.

Prosecutors alleged that Peitz fatally shot his 37-year-old wife, Teri Lynn, in their Palmdale home in August 1994 because, they said, he was having an affair and wanted to collect on her $100,000 insurance policy.

But some jurors were not persuaded by a case that relied on circumstantial evidence. Authorities never found the gun that was used, and gunshot residue tests on Peitz's hands were negative.

Although overshadowed by the O.J. Simpson trial, the story garnered significant local and national media attention. The couple were well known in Palmdale for their neighborhood crime-fighting efforts. The local newspaper named them "People who make a difference" before the slaying.

Peitz had also accused an African American man of committing the crime. That assertion echoed the then-prominent cases of Charles Stuart in Massachusetts and Susan Smith in South Carolina -- both of whom said a black man committed killings they were accused of. Smith was sentenced to life in prison in 1995, and a Boston grand jury concluded after Stuart's 1990 suicide that he had killed his wife.

Since gaining his freedom after nearly a year in jail, Peitz has apparently kept a low profile.

Pearl Bowles, one of his Quartz Hill neighbors, said Peitz is a quiet man who keeps to himself and likes to fly an American flag over his house.

The Wellses say they have lived quietly with their frustration and fear.

The couple said they have also lost faith in the criminal justice system. They say they now refuse every summons to serve on juries.

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