Teen enters mental illness plea in Grafton murder case

California high school student is charged with stabbing man to death
By 
BILL SCHANEN IV
Ozaukee Press staff

A California teenager who in May was found covered in blood and screaming for help on a Grafton street has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease to stabbing a Grafton man to death in his home.

Appearing in an Ozaukee County courtroom last week, 18-year-old Crystal E. Gutierrez entered the plea after months of investigation into what the high school senior from Paramount, Calif., who was supposed to graduate in June, was doing in Grafton and what happened while she was apparently living with 34-year-old Brent Fitch, the man she is accused of killing.

The criminal complaint charging Gutierrez with first-degree intentional homicide provides little insight into those questions, but Grafton Police Capt. Joseph Gabrish said in June that Fitch brought Gutierrez to Grafton after the two met online.

“He went out there (to California) and brought her back here,” Gabrish said. “It was consensual, at least at first.”

Among the evidence authorities examined is footage from cameras inside Fitch’s house at 904 S. Spring St., Gabrish said.

When asked what the purpose of the cameras was, Gabrish said, “He just had cameras in his house for whatever reason.”

Gutierrez, who has also pleaded not guilty to the homicide charge, now faces a two-part trial. First, a jury or judge will decide if she intentionally killed Fitch.

If Gutierrez is convicted, a jury or judge will then decide whether, as a result of mental disease or defect, she lacked the capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of her action or conform her behavior to the law and therefore is not responsible for the crime.

If she is convicted but not held responsible for her crime, Gutierrez will be committed to the custody of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and placed in an institution unless the judge determines she would not pose a danger to herself or others if released.

But if she’s convicted and held responsible for killing Fitch, Gutierrez would face life in prison.

The case against Gutierrez began unfolding at 2:20 a.m. May 3 when her mother called authorities in Ozaukee County from California to report that her daughter sent her a text message pleading for help and included an address on Spring Street in Grafton, according to the criminal complaint.

Officers began searching the area and found Gutierrez, who was bloody and naked from the waist down, running and screaming for help.

Gutierrez told officers that she had woken up and “the family was standing around her,” and that she then began stabbing Fitch with a scissors and knife, the complaint states.

Gabrish said in May that authorities did not know what Gutierrez’s comment meant.

Officers knew where Fitch lived, and at his home they found the front door open and a blood trail. His body was found face down on the floor of a bedroom.

Gutierrez has been held in the Ozaukee County jail in lieu of $100,000 bail since the stabbing. In June, Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy rejected a motion filed by Gutierrez’s lawyers to reduce her bail to $10,000.

Her trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 7.

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