Lenhart acquitted of assault on girlfriend

| Friday, Nov. 4, 2011

After deliberating more than three hours Thursday night, a Westmoreland County jury acquitted Timothy Lenhart of the attempted murder and assault of his girlfriend last year.

Lenhart, 55, of Jeannette, was charged with 12 counts for an incident July 10, 2010, when police claimed he hit Jennifer Hix in the head with a frying pan.

The jury found Lenhart not guilty of attempted murder and several counts of aggravated assault in connection with the attack on Hix. Lenhart was convicted of two lesser felony charges: Assaulting a Jeannette police officer during the arrest and one count of trespassing.

"I'm disappointed because in my mind he's proven to be a danger to the victim in this case. I'm disappointed in the verdict for her," said Assistant District Attorney Jackie Knupp.

In March 2009, another Westmoreland County jury acquitted Lenhart of assaulting Hix by poking her in the eye with an umbrella.

As a result of yesterday's conviction Lenhart faces up to 17 years in prison, but Knupp said based on his prior criminal record he is likely to serve only several years behind bars.

Lenhart remain in jail until he is sentenced in about three months by Westmoreland County Judge Al Bell.

Defense attorney Brian Aston said Lenhart will not appeal the guilty findings.

"My client is extremely pleased with this verdict," Aston said.

Aston asked jurors to find Lenhart not guilty, saying there was no concrete evidence that Hix was hit with a frying pan and suggested that the investigation was botched by an inept Jeannette police department.

Aston told the jury that Jeannette police never collected clothing that belonged to Hix and waited at least a day to enlist the help of county detectives to investigate the crime scene and to interview potential witnesses.

"The absence of evidence tells you there is no evidence," Aston said in his closing arguments.

The defense presented no witnesses during the trial.

The prosecution, during three days of testimony, presented evidence from one eyewitness who said he saw Lenhart swing the frying pan toward Hix's head. Evidence that Hix suffered nasal fractures, a broken rib and possibly a concussion was also relayed to the jury.

Knupp said that although Hix was drunk, her blood-alcohol level was 0.515 percent, and in a stormy relationship she did not deserve to be beaten by her then boyfriend.

Knupp told the jury it should not focus on sketchy time estimates given by witnesses, and instead look at the brutal injuries suffered by Hix and testimony that placed Lenhart in the room with her when investigators believe she was assaulted.

She argued that Lenhart acted in a jealous rage when he attacked Hix.

"You either believe Tim Lenhart hit Jennifer Hix with the skillet or not. That is the case," Knupp said.

Jurors heard testimony earlier in the day from an upstairs neighbor, Russ Stoltz, who said he saw Hix in the one-room apartment of Robert Michael Sayers. Hix had black eyes from an earlier assault by Lenhart, but did not appear to have been severely beaten, Stoltz said.

Two hours later Sayers asked that he call 911. While on the telephone, Stoltz testified he heard a thud and Hix scream for help.

"I looked in and I witnessed Jennifer on her back holding her hands up telling Tim to get away from her," Stoltz testified.

Sayers previously testified he escorted Hix to his apartment after she had been beaten by Lenhart several hours earlier at another friend's apartment.

Jeannette police had arrested Lenhart for public drunkenness and held him in custody for about three hours. Lenhart was released about three hours before he was arrested again on allegations he hit Hix with the frying pan.

Jeannette police officer Justin Scalzo testified Lenhart hit him in the face as he attempted to make the arrest after the frying pan incident.

Jurors also heard testimony that Lenhart was charged in 2008 with aggravated assault in connection with the umbrella incident and that he was eventually acquitted.

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