Videos show California teen endured abuse before killing man in Grafton

High school student who was brought to Wisconsin by man she met on the internet is sentenced to 15 years in mental health institution for 2019 murder

FLANKED BY HER lawyers Heather Dvoran (left) and Rachel Boaz in an Ozaukee County courtroom Monday, Crystal Gutierrez turned and looked at the sister of Brent Fitch as she described how his murder in May 2019 devastated her and her family. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Crystal Gutierrez can’t remember much about living with a 34-year-old Grafton man she met via the internet and who drove the 18-year-old high school senior from her home in California to his house in Wisconsin, but footage from video cameras the man installed throughout his home show that he treated her as a sex slave, abusing her physically and sexually while controlling her psychologically, Gutierrez’s lawyer Rachel Boaz said during a sentencing hearing in Ozaukee County Circuit Court Monday.

The abuse stopped on Friday, May 3, 2019, when Gutierrez picked up a knife, walked into the bedroom of Brent Fitch and stabbed him between 80 and 100 times in what District Attorney Adam Gerol described as a horrific murder. 

“The medical examiner stopped counting,” Gerol said of the number of stab wounds. 

Gerol said the attack lasted nearly eight minutes.

“It took him a long time to die,” he said. “It was horrible.”

So too was the abuse Gutierrez suffered at the hands of Fitch, Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy said. 

Describing video footage that showed a violent sexual encounter between Fitch and Gutierrez the day before his murder, Malloy said, “He just slammed her down. I thought she was out cold. Then he slapped her as hard as anyone could.

“This court has seen a lot of things, and this made me extremely uncomfortable.”

Gutierrez, now 19, pleaded no contest to second-degree intentional homicide in June, but consistent with the opinions of several experts, Malloy ruled she was not guilty by reason of mental disease. 

Because she is not legally responsible for her crime, Gutierrez did not face time in prison, but on Monday Malloy ordered her confined to Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison for 15 years. He noted she is able to ask a judge to review that sentence at various times during her commitment.

Gutierrez was arrested after police found  her running down a street near Fitch’s house wearing only a T-shirt, covered in blood and screaming for help around 2:30 a.m. the day of the murder. Officers began searching for her after Gutierrez’s mother received a text message from her daughter pleading for help and called authorities.

During the more-than-90-minute hearing Monday, Fitch was described as both a well-liked, quiet man and one who was abusive and controlling and exploited the mental illness that afflicted a teenager 16 years younger than him.

Gerol said Fitch was professionally successful, loved by his family and liked by his co-workers.

“He simply was an individual who was not a great socializer,” he said. 

But Gerol said that one of the reasons he amended the first-degree murder charge he initially filed against Gutierrez was to avert a trial that could have damaged Fitch’s reputation and embarrassed his family.

“The victim’s sex interests were not conventional but they were part of his life,” Gerol said. 

In an emotional statement, Fitch’s sister, who identified herself only by her initials, said he was a kind and loving son and brother as well as a caring uncle to her daughter, who was celebrating her fifth birthday when news came that Fitch had been stabbed to death.

“In an instant my heart dropped and my blood ran cold,” she said. 

She said the inside of her brother’s house looked “like a scene from a horror movie.”

Referring to Gutierrez, who turned to look at her as she spoke, Fitch’s sister said, “She took something away from us that cannot be replaced.

“My family only wants to say to the defendant that we forgive you. It doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten. We’ll never forget, but we forgive.”

Malloy, however, said, “Brent Fitch had a dark side,” one that Boaz, the public defender appointed to represent Gutierrez, described as abusive, manipulative and twisted.

Noting that the relationship between Fitch and Gutierrez may have begun as consensual although unconventional, Boaz said, “It gets to a point where it’s no longer BDSM. It’s controlling, it’s abusive and it’s called rape.”

By all accounts, Gutierrez was a fairly normal high school student who lived in a suburb of Los Angeles, was looking forward to prom and was planning on attending college, although she struggled with mental health issues including post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative disorder, which is characterized by an involuntary disconnection from reality.

“It’s very clear that Crystal Gutierrez had mental health issues before she met Brent Fitch, but he exploited them,” Boaz said. “He preyed on her vulnerability.”

Fitch wooed Gutierrez with attention and a promise to pay for her college education, Boaz said.

“In Crystal’s mind, it was a fairy tale,” she said. 

But at Fitch’s house, the fairy tale more closely resembled a nightmare. Boaz said Gutierrez was expected to be sexually submissive at all times, was allowed to wear only a T-shirt and had to ask permission to do the simplest of things.

“She must do exactly what he wanted or she would be punished,” Boaz said. 

When Gutierrez was allowed to leave the house, it was so she and Fitch could go to a pharmacy to buy Plan B, a medication referred to as the morning-after pill that helps prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex.

At one point after the murder, Boaz said, Gutierrez referred to a baby.

“She said, ‘The baby. I killed the baby,’” Boaz said. “She had to take Plan B multiple times. She’s a strong Catholic and she thought Plan B was an abortion.”

Fitch had a history of treating women like he did Gutierrez, Boaz said. In a motion she filed before a plea agreement was reached, Boaz cited several women who were interviewed by police investigating the murder. One of them, who lived in Fitch’s house for nearly two years but was not in a relationship with him, said he was “very controlling and narcissistic and would treat women like objects,” adding that he had “weird sexual  fetishes,” according to the motion.

Another woman interviewed by police said she met Fitch online and, after he brought her from Kentucky to his home in Grafton, they dated for more than two years.

She described Fitch as physically and mentally controlling to the extent that she had to ask his permission before she could eat, and said he became very angry at times and that one of their arguments became physical.

In a recording a day before the murder, Gutierrez could be heard sobbing and screaming “no” as Fitch sexually assaulted her, Boaz said.

Gutierrez had come to fear that Fitch was going to kill her, Boaz said. 

Referring to what he believed was Gutierrez’s mindset leading up to the murder, Malloy said she “comes out of her dissociative haze and realizes she is in very, very serious danger.”

But Gerol, who noted Gutierrez was not being assaulted when she walked from her room into Fitch’s and began stabbing him, said her actions were “evidence of incredible rage, not fear.”

Although she may have thought her only option was to kill Fitch, she could have protected herself in others ways, including by calling police, Gerol said.

“Ms. Gutierrez had many other options,” Gerol said. “Instead, she grabbed a knife, went in the other room and killed Mr. Fitch.

“It was not her role to sentence him to death.”

Boaz said Gutierrez, fearing for her life, reacted to the circumstances created by Fitch when she killed him and is not a violent person prone to commit similar crimes. 

“This is never going to happen again,” she said. 

But, Boaz said, Gutierrez needs institutional care, noting that she attempted suicide while in jail, and during the counseling she later received said she thought that’s what Fitch would have wanted, that she loved him and she should have been more obedient.

“A year after his death, he still has the ability to manipulate and control her,” Boaz said. 

Boaz recommended Gutierrez be sentenced to between three and five years at Mendota.

Gerol did not recommend a specific period of confinement but said, “I think it should err on the side of being a sufficient number of years so we have some confidence she’s rehabilitated and society is protected.”


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