James Lotz and Joan Halpin Lotz


The military's longest death row inmate may be eligible for parole unless an appeal can stop him. I am desperately asking for the media's help concerning this matter immediately! My aunt and uncle (Lt. James and Joan Lotz), were brutally stabbed to death in their home almost twelve years ago. Now, their killer, Corporal Ronnie Curtis, may be eligible for parole after having his sentence of death overturned, unless an appeal can stop it. Please, Please help my family get this story out there as soon as possible, we are running out of time, and we don't want to see a murderer out on the streets. Below is an article with further information concerning the case. Please Help Us!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Alicia Lavelle


Friday, February 5, 1999

Military appeals court blocks death sentence
Private who killed Lejeune couple keeps life sentence


Convicted murderer Pvt. Ronnie Allen Curtis, who has appealed his way from death row to a life sentence, will not face a new sentencing hearing any time soon, the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals decided this week.  The federal government's request for a new hearing was denied Tuesday, said Col. Kevin Sandkuhler, director of the Appellate Government Division for the Navy and Marine Corps.  The decision -- which reaffirms Curtis' life sentence -- was a blow to the family of James and Joan Lotz, who were murdered in their Camp Lejeune home in April 1987.  "The bottom line is it's basically over with," said Grace Halpin, Joan's older sister. "The bottom line is we have to focus now and be ready for the possibility of parole."  The military has 30 days to make a request to the Judge Advocate General of the Navy to send the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, said Sandkuhler, whose division represents the United States on appeals.  "We don't know what we're going to do," he said, adding that the other option is to drop the case and let it end. "We need to look at all the facts first."  Curtis, who was 21 at the time of the murders, was convicted in August 1987 of stabbing his then commanding officer, 1st Lt. James Lotz, and Lejeune High School teacher Joan Lotz. He also was convicted of violating a lawful general order, willfully damaging government property, burglary, indecent assault of his murder victim, three counts of larceny and two counts of housebreaking.  James, 28, was stabbed twice in the heart with a military K-bar knife, and his wife Joan, 28, was stabbed eight times in the back of the head and neck. Curtis was sentenced to death at a Camp Lejeune court-martial and has sat in the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. ever since.  He began appealing his death sentence soon after his initial conviction in 1987. The U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Curtis' death sentence in 1993, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces -- the highest appellate court in the military -- affirmed the death sentence in 1996.  But in June 1997, after the defense made a motion for reconsideration, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces reversed the sentence with a 3-2 vote. While the majority of judges affirmed that Curtis was guilty of killing the Lotzes, the sentence was reversed and they ordered the Judge Advocate General of the Navy to return the case to the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals.  The U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals had the option of giving Curtis a sentence of life imprisonment or ordering another hearing to determine his sentence.  On Nov. 30, the court handed down a life imprisonment sentence and did not explain its reasoning. In turn, the federal government filed a request for reconsideration with the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, requesting that the court reconsider its decision and instead order another sentencing hearing.  And because the court did not elaborate on its decision, the government requested a published statement on why and how they reached the decision.  Both requests were denied Tuesday.  "We're not batting too well," Sandkuhler said Thursday.  Because the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces already reversed the death sentence in 1997, it's unlikely they will change their minds again.  "We're swimming upstream, big time," Sandkuhler said.  And all of this frightens the Halpin family, who has watched the death penalty case crumble over the years and now fears that Curtis will one day be paroled.  "We were definitely hoping for a better outcome," said Bernadette Halpin, Joan's younger sister. "We're disgusted that it's getting so out of control."  After serving 10 years, a prisoner at Fort Leavenworth can request parole, Sandkuhler said. Curtis would have to request parole from the Navy Clemency and Parole Board, which would take into consideration a number of factors, including the nature of his offense.  While Curtis, who already has served 11 years, has not made such a request yet, the Halpin family is preparing for the worst. "Not only did he take two lives in the family, but on a personal level, he has made me feel like my career is a complete farce," said Grace, a police officer in Scranton, Pa., where both James and Joan grew up. "That a person like this who murdered two people can be released to the streets ... it's pathetic."  The family is already doing all it can to prepare for the possibility of parole and has filed with the Victim/Witness Assistance Unit at Fort Leavenworth. They will try to present information to the parole board to  convince them to keep Curtis in jail.  "We really need help," Bernadette said. "We need the people's help."  The Halpins are trying to get as many petitions signed in favor of keeping Curtis in jail. They are contacting unions and organizations and collecting signatures from everyone they meet.  They already have received 12 letters from Jacksonville residents that will help in their case.  "These are 12 people who care and 12 people we can't thank enough," Grace said. "They are 12 letters from the heart and we were especially thrilled with that."  The Halpins ask that petitions or letters to the parole board be sent to Grace's home at 1303 Saint Ann St., Scranton, Pa. 18504. E-mail letters can be sent to Bernadette at BPGPAP@AOL.COM


Sunday, February 14, 1999
Parole for Curtis would be nightmare

In a world turned upside down, Marine Pvt. Ronnie Allen Curtis -- who murdered Marine 1st Lt. James Lotz and his wife Joan Halpin Lotz in their quarters aboard Camp Lejeune -- has been re-sentenced to serve life in prison in lieu of execution. The major concern here is, there is a possibility of parole. So much for justice.  In a very real way, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces and the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals have imposed cruel and unusual punishment on the families of the victims. For them, the nightmare is unfolding again as they attempt to muster the records and support to fight Curtis' release on their own.  How much more convoluted and ineffective can a system become -- all in less than 12 years after Curtis was convicted?  Here's a guy who was found guilty of two counts of premeditated murder, three counts of larceny, two counts of house-breaking along with burglary, and indecent assault of his murder victim.  He received a death sentence, and that punishment was affirmed by both appeals courts.  After a new appeal, however, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces reversed its decision on a 3-2 vote. It ordered the case returned to the Navy-Marine Corps court, which had the option of giving Curtis a sentence of life imprisonment or ordering another sentencing hearing. Without explanation, that panel re-sentenced Curtis to life imprisonment. He will become eligible for parole consideration.  Think of it: By what irrational standard can the death penalty for taking two innocent lives in a most brutal and hideous manner be set aside and reduced to a sentence of anything less than certain life imprisonment?  This is the very reason the death penalty still exists -- because when the wheels of the court systems start to turn, they often run over any reasonable notion of true justice. Before you know it, a criminal that nobody believed would ever rejoin decent society suddenly has a lease on life and an opportunity for future release.  There are indications that the military lawyers charged with arguing the case on behalf of the government are about ready to throw in the towel on the matter of re-sentencing. If those representing the military -- and by extension James and Joan Lotz and their families -- just walk away from this case now, the ramifications will be far-reaching.  If ever a case deserved to be argued to the bitter end -- clear up to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary -- it is this one. That Curtis should escape the death penalty for his vicious, premeditated murder of James and Joan Lotz is outrageous enough, but that he could be eligible for parole is simply unacceptable.  In the meantime, as the March 2 deadline for the government to appeal this ruling by the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals approaches, the family of Joan Lotz is desperately seeking help and support in their quest for justice. The Halpin family asks that petitions or letters to the parole board be sent to 1303 Saint Ann St., Scranton, PA 18504. E-mail can be sent to bpgpap@aol.com

Case Highlights Military's Struggle With Death Penalty

By Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, March 2, 1999; Page A02

On an April night 12 years ago at a sprawling Marine Corps base in North Carolina, Lance Cpl. Ronnie Curtis took an eight-inch knife and, in a drunken rage, stabbed his supervising officer and the officer's wife, then sexually molested the wife and stole the family car.  The murder of Lt. James Lotz and Joan Halpin Lotz brought a swift judgment of Curtis. Within four months, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to death.  But his fate is still hanging in the balance.  Appeals have lasted more than a decade, bouncing up to the military's highest court four times. Last week, the top military lawyer for the Navy and Marine Corps moved to send it there again, contesting a recent ruling that replaced Curtis's death sentence with life imprisonment and made him immediately eligible for parole.  "Something is wrong here," said Grace Halpin, a police investigator in Scranton, Pa., who is one of Joan Lotz's 11 surviving siblings. "We never thought Curtis would ever be eligible to walk the streets again."  The easing of the sentence also has upset many in the Marine Corps, for whom the grisly attack at Camp Lejeune remains a haunting memory. "There are Marines who would line up to shoot this guy," said one senior officer.  The twists and turns of the Curtis case reflect a struggle within the military justice system over how to deal with capital punishment. Appellate judges have expressed growing concern about the reliability of verdicts and sentences in death penalty cases, given how little experience military lawyers have handling them.  Although military law allows death sentences for 15 offenses--including murder, rape, espionage in peacetime and disobedience and desertion in wartime--such penalties rarely have been given. Even more rarely have they been affirmed by higher courts and presidents. The last military execution was in 1961.  The Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces (CAAF) ordered reconsideration of Curtis's death sentence in 1997 because the original defense counsel failed to argue during sentencing that Curtis's drunkenness at the time of the murders could be regarded as a mitigating circumstance. Since then, the high military court has set aside death penalties in three other cases on similar grounds--inadequate defense counsel or errors in instructions to jurors.  Seven convicts remain on death row at Fort Leavenworth's Disciplinary Barracks in Kansas. Only one, Army Pvt. Dwight J. Loving, has exhausted the judicial appeals process, and his case is making its slow way through the Executive Branch for final consideration by President Clinton.  Curtis, who was a 21-year-old supply clerk when he murdered the Lotzes, is black. The Lotzes were white, and evidence in the case showed Curtis viewed the lieutenant as a racist. After breaking into a warehouse to steal a knife, the record shows, Curtis rode a bicycle to Lotz's quarters on base at about midnight and knocked on the door, claiming a friend had been in an accident and needed help. When Lutz ushered him in to use the phone, Curtis plunged a knife into the lieutenant's chest.  Lotz called for his wife, who appeared and started kicking Curtis. Curtis stabbed her eight times. As she was dying, he grabbed her by the legs, removed her panties and molested her.  He then took one of the Lotzes' cars, drove for awhile, returned to the house and left with their other car. After driving around the base he headed toward Wilmington, N.C., fell asleep at the wheel and crashed the car. Discovered by a North Carolina state trooper, then handed over to military investigators, Curtis confessed to the killings.  He was convicted of two counts of murder, burglary, larceny, indecent assault and willfully damaging government property. Jurors then deliberated for 78 minutes before sentencing him to death.  The case drew national attention because it was the first test of 1984 guidelines issued by President Ronald Reagan for military death penalty cases.  In its initial review, the military's highest court, the CAAF, affirmed the constitutionality of the guidelines. In its next two reviews, the CAAF rejected challenges to the verdict and sentence on procedural and other grounds, including adverse pretrial publicity, admission of certain evidence, instructions issued by the judge and effectiveness of defense counsel.  But after its fourth consideration of the case, the appeals court--which is made up of civilians--reversed itself 1 1/2 years ago in a 3-to-2 decision. It criticized the original defense counsel for failing to say anything about how Curtis's intoxication was linked to the murders. It instructed a lower court to arrange for a new sentence. Getting the case back for further action, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals was given two options by the CAAF: Either convene a new sentencing hearing or, on its own authority, affirm a sentence of life imprisonment. Last November, the court, which is made up of Marine colonels and Navy captains, voted 7 to 0 to forgo a new hearing and give Curtis a life term. It announced the decision without explanation in a six-paragraph statement. Five paragraphs restated the case; the sixth affirmed the new jail term. Early last month, the court rejected a government request to reconsider, again offering no explanation.  Given the past significance and notoriety of the case, Marine Corps officials--not to mention relatives of the Lotzes--found it odd and frustrating that the appellate court chose not to elaborate. Military lawyers have speculated that perhaps the judges were worried about opening the case to more appeals or figured that with an adequate defense, Curtis would have received life imprisonment anyway. Whatever their reasoning, the judges are not saying. "The court speaks through its decisions," a spokesman said Friday, declining further comment. The switch to life imprisonment meant Curtis could be considered for parole. Under rules in place at the time of Curtis's original sentencing, inmates facing life terms are eligible for parole after serving 10 years. Lotz family members first realized that Curtis could come up for parole when they received an official letter in December advising them to register with the Victim Witness Assistance Program at Fort Leavenworth because the parole board might want to speak to them. Since 1991, Curtis has been represented by Mary T. Hall, who took the case when she was a Navy lawyer and retained it after entering private practice. She contends that information about Curtis that has emerged since the trial argues further for sparing his life. For instance, Curtis was presented at trial as having come from "a good Christian family" but in fact he lived as an adopted child with a father who beat him, Hall said. At the same time, she played down the chances that a military parole board would free Curtis soon. "Curtis understands that he still has a tremendous debt to pay to society for killing these two people," Hall said. "I've advised him that realistically he won't have a shot at parole any time in the near future, and he's been accepting of that."  Rear Adm. Donald J. Guter, the Navy's deputy judge advocate general, issued an order Thursday instructing the CAAF to review the Curtis case again, this time looking at two issues: Does the lower appellate court have authority to assess sentences in capital cases? And did it abuse its discretion by making its own reassessment rather than ordering a rehearing? Experts in military law see little chance that the CAAF will overrule the lower court this time. 

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