Kenneth C. Fitzhugh Jr. had always claimed innocence after being convicted in one of Palo Alto's most brutal murders, even fighting his case in the California Supreme Court.
He ultimately obtained his freedom, but not through exoneration. He received compassionate-release parole from San Quentin Prison in February 2012 due to a terminal illness. And 8 1/2 months later, on Oct. 27, 2012, he died, according to state prison officials.
Fitzhugh was convicted in 2001 for bludgeoning and strangling his wife, Kristine, a music teacher, in their Southgate neighborhood home. The trial had exposed an unraveling 33-year marriage and an affair and money as motives for the crime. It included an admission by his wife that one of the couple's two sons was fathered by a friend, according to prosecutors.
He received 15 years to life in prison for the second-degree murder, which occurred on May 5, 2000. He would have had his first chance at parole in 2015.
Fitzhugh was paroled in 2012 after multiple stays in the San Quentin hospital. He had been transferred there from High Desert State Prison in Susanville for medical care, state prison officials said. He died in Santa Clara County, according to the Santa Clara County Coroner's office.
During Fitzhugh's trial, prosecutors alleged he killed his wife because he was angry that she planned to tell their eldest son that Fitzhugh was not his biological father.
In addition, the Fitzhughs' finances had collapsed over the two years prior to the murder. Evidence showed the family's three investment accounts plunged from nearly $400,000 in early 1998 to approximately $11,000 in May 2000.
On the day of her death, Kristine Fitzhugh had returned to her house on Escobita Avenue around noon, bringing home coffee and two muffins. She was in the kitchen eating and reading classroom papers when she was attacked, according to Palo Alto police. She was struck from behind on the head seven times with a blunt instrument and beaten in the face while being strangled with one hand. She died of several head wounds; strangulation was a contributing factor, according to the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner.
Fitzhugh said he had received a phone call from Addison Elementary School in Palo Alto, alerting him that his wife had not shown up to teach her afternoon class. Although he told police he had then called his wife on her cell phone and at the house, caller ID records showed he had not, according to police. Instead, he went to the home of two friends in Palo Alto and asked the women to accompany him to find out why his wife could not be reached.
Prosecutors said Fitzhugh had staged his wife's death and brought the friends with him to "discover" her body. After killing her in the kitchen, he had moved her to the bottom of the basement stairs to make it seem as though she had fallen. Her injuries were not consistent with a fall down the stairs, the coroner found.
Forensic testing found blood spattered throughout the kitchen. Much of it had been cleaned up prior to the arrival of police. Kristine Fitzhugh's blood was on running shoes, a towel and a shirt belonging to Fitzhugh, which were found in his Chevrolet Suburban. Fitzhugh had said the shoes were in his closet, and he could not explain the presence of the bloody items in his car, police said.
Prosecutors also dismantled Fitzhugh's alibi. He had said he was in San Bruno looking at a vacant property for a client when the murder was committed. But cell phone calls he received that afternoon were routed through an antenna on University Avenue in Palo Alto, which proved he was in the area at the time, they said.
Fitzhugh claimed an intruder killed his wife. He appealed his case. The California Supreme Court rejected his appeal in 2006.
The Fitzhugh family did not return a request for comment for this story.