October 22, 1999Read more in our Holtzer case archive
Holtzer found guilty of murder
Kalee Bruce family weeps upon hearing verdictBy PATRICK SULLIVAN
Record-Eagle staff writer
WHITE CLOUD - About 30 of Kalee Bruce's family and friends breathed a sigh of relief and wept tears of joy upon hearing a jury had found Kevin Holtzer guilty of her murder.
Holtzer, who showed no reaction to the verdict, faces mandatory life in prison without parole after a jury of nine women and three men took 4« hours to find him guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder for savagely beating the 18-year-old Traverse City hotel desk clerk to death in February 1998.
Kalee's father and brother said they would not comment on the case until Holtzer is sentenced in about a month. The father, Ted Bruce, said he only wanted to praise Grand Traverse County assistant prosecutor Alan Schneider and those who worked with him for putting on a "brilliant" case.
Others said it was a bittersweet day.
"It's not really a celebration," said Jenny Bruce, a relative of Kalee's. "It will never be the same. It's amazing what one human being can do to another."
Steven Thompson, a neighbor and friend who has known Kalee since she was a little girl, said he was glad for the sake of the family that it was over.
"It's been very frustrating," he said. "That whole family, it will never be over for them."
Thompson, a reverend, also expressed remorse for Holtzer's family.
"I feel it was the correct outcome. I do feel for the family, especially his brother who sat there every day for him," Thompson said.
Holtzer was charged with first-degree premeditated murder and three counts of felony murder for committing larceny, third-degree criminal sexual conduct and second-degree criminal sexual conduct during the commission of a murder. The jury found him guilty of the lesser offense of second-degree murder in the first two counts and guilty of the other counts.
Schneider said he was pleased with the verdict and understood why the jury didn't find Holtzer guilty of premeditated murder. In order to find Holtzer guilty of that, they would have had to believe that Holtzer considered killing Bruce for an amount of time that it would take a reasonable person to change his mind. Bruce worked at The Beach Condominiums, where Holtzer lived.
About 20 minutes before reaching a verdict, jurors asked to hear for a second time the legal difference between first and second-degree murder.
"I think they reached a very wise and considered verdict," Schneider said, adding that Holtzer will be sentenced to life without parole anyway.
During closing arguments Thursday, friends and family members of Bruce packed one side of the courtroom while only three people sat behind Holtzer: his brother, sister-in-law and sister-in-law's mother.
Schneider only said a few words about what he believed was Holtzer's motive for the brutal killing: "Kevin Holtzer had a need to degrade, mutilate and destroy another human being. Kalee Bruce was tragically in the proximity of Kevin Holtzer when this need was felt."
He described how Holtzer left clues behind, from comments he made to police to a hair he left at the crime scene that could be traced back to him.
Schneider said Holtzer betrayed himself when he told an FBI agent who arrested him in Chicago that he was running because he feared police would kill him.
"Why did he think the police would kill him? Why did he make that statement? Because he knew how bad it was. He knew what he left behind," he said.
Holtzer betrayed himself in other ways, Schneider said, by telling "big lies" and "little lies."
He listed some of Holtzer's "little lies."
Holtzer told co-workers he had been with his girlfriend the night of the murder, something his girlfriend said was not true.
He told an FBI agent that he did not know who Bruce was, then later said he had met her while she was working as a desk clerk where he lived.
He also told his girlfriend and an FBI agent that he came back to Traverse City from Alma the night of the murder around midnight, several hours after the killing took place.
"This is the kind of lie you make to kind of alibi yourself, but only the killer needs to alibi himself," he said. "He knows when the crime occurred."
Holtzer also told "big lies," he said.
Police determined that a boot print left at the crime scene was probably made by a particular kind of Caterpillar boot. Holtzer wore Caterpillar boots until the day of the murder.
"He tells (FBI) agent Steinbach that his boots were either at his house or at his girlfriend's house. They're not there," he said.
Even though most of the trial was spent in testimony about complicated mitochondrial DNA evidence - science that has been seldom used as evidence in court - Schneider spent relatively little time discussing it with jurors.
He said they should consider m-DNA testimony that matched a hair at the crime scene to Holtzer's m-DNA type and a hair found in his bedroom to Bruce's type in light of the other evidence.
He summarized the issue which has consumed most of the trial because Holtzer's lawyers contended that contamination at one of the labs where testing was performed and other problems with the newly discovered forensic science of m-DNA raise questions serious enough to force jurors to ignore the evidence.
He urged jurors to use common sense and consider how unlikely it would be that two labs would match Holtzer's and Bruce's m-DNA types to evidence from the scene if Holtzer did not commit the crime.
"This case is really about what (defense lawyer Ray) Beckering and his witnesses wanted to talk about least," he said.
Larry Willey began his closing statement for the defense by listing all of the evidence that was removed from Holtzer's apartment and was tested but determined not to be relevant in the case.
"They did the 'granddaddy' of all searches. ... What were they looking for and what would you expect to find if Kevin Holtzer killed Kalee Bruce?" Willey said.
He said jurors should wonder why police found only a tiny amount of blood and never found any trace of an iron that had shattered when it was used to beat Bruce to death.
"Whoever did this had to be covered with blood and iron fragments," he said. "I'm not here complaining about what police didn't do; I'm telling you about what they did do and what they didn't find."
He said Holtzer's willingness to speak with an FBI agent for an hour and 40 minutes after he was captured shows he didn't have a guilty conscience.
Willey also argued that Holtzer would not have had time to drive from Mount Pleasant to Traverse City to commit the murder around 8 p.m. that evening because he did not leave Mount Pleasant until well after 6 p.m. It takes around two hours to drive from there to his condominium at the speed limit.
"This is a horrible, horrible crime," he said. "But Kevin Holtzer didn't commit it and I ask you to find him not guilty."
In his rebuttal, Schneider scorned Willey for saying Holtzer was not guilty.
"Mr. Willey did something I don't like and I don't think is the right thing to do," he said. Willey claimed Holtzer was not guilty, "as if he has some special knowledge."
He argued that the murder did not necessarily happen at 8 p.m., when Bruce punched out from work. He said Bruce could have returned later because she forgot something or could have stayed late after work to study.
This is the second conviction Schneider has won against Holtzer in White Cloud. In December 1998, Holtzer was convicted of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder for the savage January 1998 beating of Kristen LaCharite.
Circuit Judge Thomas Power moved both cases to Newaygo County after ruling that Michigan law prevents jurors from hearing facts from unrelated cases. An impartial jury in Grand Traverse County would have been difficult to find, he decided.