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Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Trial Opens in Palmdale Shooting : Courts: Defense lawyer says the evidence is circumstantial and claims the pain pills his client took left him incapable of killing his wife.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Palmdale letter carrier accused of murdering his wife and then blaming the crime on a black man went on trial for murder Friday.

Jeffrey Peitz, 38, is charged with fatally shooting his wife, Teri Lynn Peitz, 37, last Aug. 12 as she watched television in their Palmdale home. She was shot twice in the head from 12 to 18 inches away, a coroner’s report said.

Defense attorney Richard S. Plotin said the evidence the prosecution has against his client is purely circumstantial.

In his 45 minutes of opening arguments, Plotin said a gunshot residue test that police performed on Peitz was negative and that two .22-caliber bullet casings found in the living room next to the victim’s body did not match any ammunition Peitz had in the house.

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Before the killing, Plotin added, Peitz had taken back-pain medication that had left him in a sluggish condition and unable to commit the act.

Peitz maintains he was on the second floor of the house when he heard shots. He told Antelope Valley sheriff’s deputies that he went to the living room and saw a black man leaving through a screen door. He claimed the man was a squatter in a nearby house who killed his wife in retaliation for her work in a Neighborhood Watch group.

Investigators have said the man Peitz fingered, James Shaw, was in Michigan at the time of the murder and has a solid alibi. Further investigation led authorities to arrest Peitz.

Deputy Dist. Atty. John A. Portillo said in an interview that the prosecution intended to prove that there was no one in the house besides Peitz and his wife at the time of the murder.

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“The evidence will show that there was no black man,” he said.

Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Schoonmaker of the Antelope Valley station, the second officer on the scene, testified Friday that Peitz was kneeling beside his wife’s body when authorities arrived. The officers “asked him who did this, and he looked at me and said, ‘Who do you think?’ ” Schoonmaker said.

Deputy David Bower who also came to the crime scene, testified that when he talked to Peitz, “he appeared indifferent to the whole situation.”

The victim’s parents, both in their 60s, drove from their home in Riverside to attend the trial. They sat in the front row of the courtroom holding back tears as they heard deputies describe the murder scene.

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“I talked to Teri at 7:30 p.m. Friday, just before she was killed,” her mother, Betty Wells, said. “Her last words were, ‘I love you, mom.’ And I said, ‘I love you, baby.’ ”

Jack Wells, Teri Lynn Peitz’s father, attended the trial despite having to manage with a cane and sometimes a wheelchair. He said his daughter never mentioned any marital problems, but “from what we found out, Teri held (back) a lot from us.”

The Peitzes’ 16-year-old daughter, Michelle, is staying with a neighbor in Palmdale, her grandparents said.

The case is similar to those of Charles Stuart in 1989 in Boston and Susan Smith last year in South Carolina, both of whom claimed a black man had committed murders. Police now believe that Stuart, who committed suicide, killed his wife, and Smith has been arrested in the drowning deaths of her two sons.

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