September 16, 1999Read our previous stories about the Holtzer case.
Evidence of prior attack not allowedBy PATRICK SULLIVAN
Record-Eagle staff writer
TRAVERSE CITY - Prosecutors won't be able to tell jurors that Kevin Holtzer brutally attacked a woman a month before 18-year-old college student Kalee Bruce was beaten to death.
Holtzer is set to go to trial in November on charges that he killed Bruce in February of 1998 while she worked as a desk clerk at the Beach Condominiums in East Bay Township.
Prosecutors twice asked Circuit Judge Thomas Power to be allowed to introduce evidence from Holtzer's trial in the beating of Kristen LaCharite. He was found guilty of dragging her from her truck early one morning in January, 1998, viciously beating her and leaving her for dead.
LaCharite survived the attack but suffered closed-head injuries. Holtzer is serving a 10- to 15-year prison term after his conviction on charges of assault with intent to do great bodily harm.
Power ruled for the second time Wednesday that jurors could not hear evidence from the LaCharite case at Holtzer's murder trial.
It's a long-standing court rule that prosecutors cannot tell jurors about other crimes committed by a defendant for fear jurors will conclude that a defendant is guilty of one crime simply because he or she committed another.
Prosecutor Alan Schneider tried to argue an exception to that rule in a motion filed last month. When evidence can prove the identity of a defendant because the crimes committed are so unique that they betray "signature" qualities, the evidence is admissible, he argued.
Power complained Wednesday that several Michigan Court of Appeals decisions and two Supreme Court decisions were ambiguous on the issue.
Schneider and defense lawyer Larry Willey spent more than two hours Friday trying to convince Power to rule in their favor. Power said he then needed several days to review the law.
"This is not an easy question," Power said Wednesday. The exclusion of evidence of other crimes "goes back almost to antiquity in the law and it's certainly not something that we're going to change here."
Power said Wednesday he was unconvinced the attacks of LaCharite and Bruce were so similar they made up a "signature" crime, even if he took into consideration the rare occurrence of brutal attacks on women by strangers in northern Michigan.
Power cited several cases that set precedent in Michigan for allowing evidence of other acts of violence to prove identity. In one case, the appeals court ruled 4-3 against allowing evidence in a case of a man accused of murdering two men who lived alone by strangling them in their homes.
One man was strangled by an electrical cord and the other by a bathrobe tie and both crimes took place during robberies, but the court ruled that because one of the victims was beaten badly and the other was not, the cases were not similar enough to prove identity.
In another case, the court ruled 4-3 to admit evidence from two murders that took place during robberies at businesses two miles apart because the hold-up man used a .38-caliber revolver in both cases.
Comparing those and other decisions, Power decided there were significant differences between the LaCharite and Bruce attacks.
Bruce was killed in an office while working and, if she was killed by Holtzer, she would have known who he was because Holtzer lived at the condo complex. LaCharite was attacked randomly in a public place.
Bruce also suffered a more serious attack and a coroner concluded she suffered several different causes of death. Her attacker penetrated her with a long medal tube, beat her so badly with two irons the irons disintegrated, and strangled her.
Schneider lost a motion last year seeking to admit the LaCharite evidence and testimony from past girlfriends of Holtzer to prove motive. Schneider argued that Holtzer has a bizarre and unnatural hatred of women.
Holtzer's trial is set to begin Oct. 11 in Newaygo County. Power moved the trial there after deciding it would be difficult to find jurors in Grand Traverse County who didn't know about both cases because of extensive media reports about the case.