Madness and murder didn't kill Peter Spitz's love for the wife who blinded him
People stare as Peter Spitz feels his way into the restaurant. They're not looking at him, exactly. What they see is not the man, but the dark glasses, the white cane, the gadget in his throat and the oxygen tube snaking into his backpack.
He settles into a booth, listens to the menu options, orders a meal. To his relief, the waitress is attentive but not overbearing, gently asking if he's right-handed before setting down his drink. He begins to relax.
"I'm way more patient than I used to be," he says. "You don't have a choice when you're blind. Well-meaning people treat you like you're retarded. And since you can't drive, you're always waiting. My time in line has increased a hundredfold."
A 49-year-old ex-Marine, Spitz has undergone extensive rehabilitation and training since he lost his sight six years ago. He's learned how to navigate public transportation and the health-care system, often working with his devoted guide dog, a German shepherd named Jersey. He spends a lot of time online, keeping informed about the world, and is active in his church. He's taken advanced self-defense classes and even done some assisted target shooting, keeping his groupings as tight as possible. But even though he seems at ease in public, stepping outside of his usual routine and places — to a new restaurant, for example — makes him feel a bit vulnerable.
Colorado Rockies vs. San Francisco Giants
TicketsMon., Sep. 4, 1:10pm
Colorado Rockies vs. San Diego Padres
TicketsFri., Sep. 15, 6:40pm
Colorado Rockies vs. Miami Marlins
TicketsMon., Sep. 25, 6:40pm
Colorado Rockies vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
TicketsFri., Sep. 29, 6:10pm
Denver Outlaws / Major League Lacrosse All Star Game
TicketsSat., Dec. 29, 6:00pm
"I'm still not comfortable leaving my apartment very often," he says. "I don't go out as much as I should."
The health struggles, the isolation, the anxiety that Spitz feels out in public and the violent nightmares he battles in bed — it's all a very different world from the one he formerly inhabited. He was once a proud family man with a young wife, Teresa, a new baby and a revered mother who doted on her grandchildren.
It was all taken away in moments. Early one morning in 2004, Teresa shot Spitz in the face as he slept in their Englewood home, then killed his 78-year-old mother. By the time Spitz woke up in the hospital, his wife was in jail on murder charges. His son, known here as Lee (Spitz asked that his real name not be published), had been turned over to temporary guardians. And Spitz was blind.
The case drew headlines, in part because Spitz became Teresa's most ardent defender. He refused to cooperate with her prosecution, insisting that she deserved psychiatric treatment, not prison. He told reporters he hoped that the couple would be reunited some day. His stance outraged some family members and alienated old friends. An Arapahoe County jury found Teresa Spitz not guilty by reason of insanity, but there were plenty of people who thought her husband was the crazy one.
Strange as the trial was, the events that followed were even more bizarre. Committed to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo, Spitz's wife soon divorced him and legally changed her name to Teresa Lynn. Officials there claim that she's made remarkable progress in a relatively short time; they're now seeking greater privileges for her, including unsupervised trips off-grounds and more time with her son. Spitz believes his ex isn't ready for more freedom and has joined her prosecutors in objecting to the move. He's particularly concerned about her contact with Lee, which has troubled him ever since he discovered that she'd attempted to harm her child just weeks before she shot her husband and her mother-in-law.
"I was really surprised at how quickly they're moving her through the system," Spitz says. "If there's even a one-in-ten chance that she'll reoffend, that's unacceptable. You're talking about my son."
At the moment, though, Teresa Lynn has more access to their son than Spitz himself does. The legal guardianship calls for Spitz to have up to four visits a month with Lee, but he hasn't been allowed any visits for the past six months — because of clashes with the guardians over his son's care, he says. False allegations from his criminally insane ex-wife haven't helped.
"It's a difficult situation to explain," Spitz says. "I feel betrayed — not just by Teresa, but by the system. I understand it's not their job to fix me. But I don't understand why the court and the state hospital don't seriously consider how her actions have affected my son and me."
It's been a bitter education. Thanks in no small part to Spitz's own efforts, the woman who blinded him and killed his mother is no longer considered a criminal, but a patient. There's a social-service bureaucracy in place to guard her rights and try to bring her back to society — but the same machinery, Spitz contends, pays little or no attention to his concerns or his son's needs.
Peter Spitz is blind. Yet it's the people making critical decisions about his life who don't seem to see him.
Spitz never saw it coming. May 16, 2004, a week after Mother's Day, was a nearly perfect day, he recalls, a "great picket-fence family kind of day."
In fact, he and Teresa were putting up a fence that Sunday, outside the Englewood home the couple shared with Peter's mother, Mariko Shida. They worked in the pleasant spring air while Shida sat under a tree and watched their eight-month-old son. That night, Shida took everyone to Red Lobster.
Life was good, Spitz thought. The four years he'd been married to Teresa had been the happiest he'd ever known. The couple had returned to Colorado from Wisconsin a few months earlier to take care of Peter's mom, who had a history of tuberculosis but was still quite active. The move had involved finding new jobs and scrimping a bit, but things were picking up. Teresa had hired on with a truck-leasing operation that allowed her to work at home much of the time, and Peter's income and hours as a local trucker were improving. They were thinking about getting their own house.
But while Peter was looking down the road, at a future crammed with expanding opportunities, Teresa was planning the next few hours. She was an extremely organized woman, a maker of lists. And she was facing a series of difficult tasks that night, a to-do list in her head that had to be accomplished stealthily and in a tight time frame — ten minutes for this, fifteen minutes for that.
Load gun. Put in bathroom drawer.
The revolver, a Smith & Wesson .38 Special Airweight, was a present from Peter. She had tried it out at a local shooting range with him. She handled it well and was a good shot. It wasn't her favorite, because her long fingernails got in the way, but it was small and easy to conceal.
Give baby a bath. Write letter. Pack diaper bag.
Shortly before four in the morning, Peter woke up and found Teresa dressed. The baby needed diaper-rash ointment, she said; she would run to the store with him and be right back. Peter drifted back to sleep, unaware that his wife had set his clock back so that his alarm wouldn't sound in half an hour, the time he usually rose to go to work.
Get $ at ATM. Drop off baby.
The minutes ticked by. There were not many to spare. Teresa showed up at the home of Don and Sheila Reynolds, an older couple she had known for years and regarded as family. She told Sheila that Peter was having chest pains; would they mind looking after Lee while she ran to the hospital?
After Teresa left, Sheila Reynolds discovered that her friend had brought not only an unusually hefty load of diapers and other baby-care items, but Lee's Social Security card and medical paperwork, as well. Also in the diaper bag was $500 in cash, some jewelry, a diary, and a letter giving the Reynoldses custody of the child.
She made it back to the house shortly after five and took the gun from the bathroom. Peter was still sleeping. She put a pillow over his face and fired. She started to leave, but there was screaming behind her.
She went back and shot him in the face again.
This time she made it to the stairs, but there was still noise coming from the bedroom, and now her mother-in-law was calling from downstairs, wondering what was going on.
She went back to the bedroom. Peter was crawling on the floor, moaning. She shot him in the right temple, then headed downstairs.
Later, the police would not be able to determine if Shida knew she was in danger and was fleeing the house, or if she was seeking her glasses before calling 911. But Teresa caught up with her in the kitchen and shot her in the back of the head.
She went outside to her car and used her cell phone. She gave the address and said shots had been fired. When the dispatcher asked her name, she ended the call. A few minutes later, she walked into the Englewood Police Department and handed the empty revolver to an officer in the lobby. A detective took her into an interview room and advised her of her rights.
Teresa Spitz declined to answer questions and asked for a lawyer. But she did have a question of her own.
"Are they both dead?" she asked.
Only one, it turned out. The police had received two 911 calls from the 2900 block of South Cherokee that morning. One had been the hang-up call about shots fired.
The other had come from a badly wounded Peter Spitz.
He awoke in fear and excruciating pain, pain that couldn't be stopped or understood. His mouth was on fire. He thought he was having a stroke, an aneurysm, some terrible eruption inside his head.
He heard a loud noise — not a gunshot, but the sound of a giant ball bearing being dropped through a lead pipe. And with the noise came another brilliant blast of pain in his left eye. He fell out of bed and screamed for Teresa to help him.
The pain hit him again, this time on the right side of his head. He crawled in agony across the floor, groping for a phone.
The police found him there, still calling out for help and bleeding profusely. He passed out as they put him in the ambulance.
The doctors kept him out for days. When he came to, everything was dark. He could feel himself hooked up to a maze of tubes. His head was wrapped in bandages. Two Englewood detectives came into the room and talked to him.
"They were trying to tell me something, but they didn't want to say it," Spitz recalls. "Finally, I asked them about my mom, and they told me she didn't live. I asked them what happened, and they told me that they believed my wife did it."
Spitz took the news like a punch in the face. He turned on them with furious indignation. His wife? His Teresa? Were they crazy?
The detectives seemed sure of their facts. She'd turned herself in, they said.
He couldn't believe it. He lay there, slipping in and out of consciousness, trying to comprehend it. That, and the other impossible news that seeped into his hospital room over the next few days. They were going to do reconstructive surgery on his face, but the damage to his optic nerve and to his upper respiratory system could not be repaired. He was blind now and breathed through a tracheotomy tube.
Lying in the darkness, he replayed the events of the past few years over and over again in his mind. He'd thought his life, and particularly his relationship with Teresa, had been going so well — charmed, really. What had he missed? What was the evil he had failed to see, so monstrous that it had cost his sight and his mother's life?
Born in Michigan but raised in New Hampshire and elsewhere, Spitz had been a university brat, moving from one college town to another. His father was a political science professor, but Peter had no such leanings. He cut short his high-school education and joined the U.S. Marines. He served four years, and then, in 1983, went into the reserves as a recruiter.
Another recruiter, a drinking buddy named Harry, had married a woman who had children from a previous marriage. Spitz liked Harry's stepkids. The ten-year-old, Teresa, was quiet and obedient, bright and funny. Spitz didn't particularly like the way Harry treated her — as he saw it, Harry was a bit of a bully — but it wasn't his place to interfere.
He and Harry drifted apart. Spitz's own first marriage, which produced three children, fell apart. He became a long-haul trucker. One day in 1997, he dropped in on his old pal in Kansas. He hadn't seen the family for several years. Teresa was a completely different person from the kid he knew years ago. She was now eighteen — and gorgeous.
Spitz was 36, divorced for ten years — and lonely.
"We just clicked," he says now. "She had a great sense of humor. She was beautiful, intelligent and outgoing."
They had their first date a year later. Teresa had been out of high school for a year and was headed for community college in Wichita. Peter soon rented a duplex with her. Members of both families were scandalized, with all the usual remarks about robbing the cradle. Some people thought Peter was intent on rescuing her from callous boyfriends who used and mistreated her.
"There was a lot of opposition," Spitz admits. "People just didn't know us. I think she was looking for someone she could trust, a confidant. I had a great deal of respect for her, and I was madly in love with her — the typical crazy guy in love."
They got engaged. Teresa went to truck-driving school. They began driving together, just them and two Siamese cats and the open road. They made good money and soon had their own factory-spec truck.
His trucker pals considered him to be the luckiest slob in the world. His girl was not only young but sharp, and a real sweetheart, too — the kind of person who handed out change and bottles of water to the homeless stiffs clutching cardboard signs on sun-baked street corners. She could, his friends said, really light up a room.
They were married at the Brown Palace on August 5, 2000. "It was a picture-perfect wedding," recalls John Hunter, the best man. "They seemed to be a good fit, and Peter's mother seemed happy for them both."
The plan was to drive a few more years, but then Teresa got pregnant and Mariko Shida's health took a bad turn. It was at his wife's insistence, he says, that they moved to Englewood to take care of his mother: "They got along famously. Teresa even said, 'I love your mom more than I love my mom.'"
True, the move had its stressful side. New baby, new jobs, tight finances. But the situation had been getting better in recent months; Spitz didn't consider their short-term problems to be a big issue at all.
Yet the more he thought about it, the more he came to realize that Teresa, at least, didn't see herself the way others did. She had been an A student, a high achiever at everything she took on, but she seemed to lack confidence in herself — as a lover, a wife, a mother. He could never understand why someone so smart and attractive would have such lousy self-esteem, but she did. When he first started dating her, she seemed to be under the impression that she had to sleep with guys in order for them to like her.
Once, early on, they'd argued and almost broken up. In a particularly dark mood, Teresa had said, "I've always felt that some day I'm going to destroy everything I love." The words hadn't meant much at the time, but they had stuck with him.
That fear, he knew, stemmed from her messed-up childhood, which he'd learned about in bits and pieces over the years. Her biological father was an abusive man who'd split before Teresa was old enough to remember him. Shortly before the wedding, he'd sent an e-mail threatening Spitz and warning him to stay away from his daughter. "I turned that over to the Englewood police," Spitz says. "He was living in Arizona at the time and was a registered sex offender."
Her mother had remarried twice. Before Spitz's friend Harry, there had been another stepfather in California. One of Teresa's earliest memories was of discovering the man's nude body in a pool of blood. He was dead from a gunshot wound to the head, which police ruled an accident or suicide. Teresa wasn't yet three. The next-door neighbors found her there, like a gore-stained toddler in a scene from Dexter, trying to wake him up.
But that was all in the distant past. What did it have to do with their life together now?
And yet. And yet.
In the weeks before the shooting, he'd woken up in the middle of the night a couple of times to find Teresa crying in bed. She'd been having nightmares, she said, about stabbing him. It sounded disturbing, but not as if she was afraid that it was actually going to happen. He suggested she talk to her doctor about it.
It was just a dream, she insisted.
In the absence of a clear motive for the shootings, the question of Teresa's mental state became a key focus of the subsequent trial. And, as often happens in such cases, that question soon evolved into a contest between dueling shrinks.
The first doctor to examine her in detail was Robert Miller, a forensic psychiatrist at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. A former chief of psychiatry for the state prison system, Miller often testified for the prosecution, but Teresa Spitz, he concluded, had suffered a genuine psychotic episode. The night of the shootings, she was operating under the influence of what Miller called "command hallucinations" related to the list that she had to accomplish.
Miller's full evaluation of Teresa has never been made public, but it's clear from other court documents and his testimony that she told him she'd been having "bad thoughts" for some time about hurting herself or her loved ones. The thoughts may not have been a full-blown auditory hallucination — voices in her head, telling her what to do — but Miller believed she was powerless to resist them. She had considered suicide, but then the thoughts had focused on killing Peter, which she believed would be an even greater punishment for her than her own death.
When Miller asked if she thought killing her husband was wrong, Teresa told him that "it was better for Peter because he was a very sad man and would be happier in heaven, where God would give him peace."
In Colorado, a defendant is considered not guilty by reason of insanity if he or she is found to have been incapable of distinguishing right from wrong at the time of the crime or suffers from a mental illness that prevents him or her from forming a "culpable mental state." In Miller's opinion, Teresa Spitz fit the criteria.
Yet a person can be chronically mentally ill for years — and have the medical records to prove it, something the Spitz case lacked — and still not be considered legally insane under state law. A second doctor who evaluated Teresa at the state hospital disagreed with Miller about the degree of her psychosis or whether she was "powerless" to resist the impulse to kill. Indeed, the same list that Miller considered an example of her insanity was seized upon by prosecutors as proof that the woman had planned and carried out her crime methodically, knowing exactly what she was doing and what the result would be.
"We would not have proceeded to trial if we believed that she was legally insane," says John Franks, a chief deputy district attorney for Arapahoe County. "We argued that the evidence showed a rational, planned course of conduct to take her husband's life that was inconsistent with a legal finding of insanity."
Franks notes that Teresa not only removed her son from the house before her rampage, but looked up the address of the Englewood police headquarters so she'd be prepared to turn herself in — a good indication that she was aware of the criminal nature of her actions. "This was not someone who was acting psychotically, who doesn't have reality testing," he says.
While the experts debated her culpability, her husband had no doubts. For Teresa to calmly execute his mother, whom she'd adored; for her to shoot him like that, leave him for dead — that wasn't the woman he knew. A restraining order had been issued, forbidding contact between Teresa and her surviving victim. But six months after the shooting, when she was sent from the jail to the mental hospital in Pueblo for evaluation, Peter Spitz called her ward from the rehabilitation center he'd been living in for months and got her on the phone.
"She was pretty shocked that I called," he says. "We talked a lot. She was definitely expressing remorse. She hated herself, and she didn't understand why I was calling, why I was supporting her. But I didn't want a divorce. I know it sounds crazy, but we talked about staying together and working through it."
A torrent of phone calls and letters followed. Someone had to read Spitz her letters, which were festooned with smiley faces and hearts. "I have two poems that I've written over the past year just for myself, to purge thoughts or emotions," reads one. "One is really dark & personal & it makes me a bit scared of showing you it...you're my best friend & husband, but it's hard for me to reveal that sickness to you of all people. I want to take care of you and protect you from any more horrors.
"Babe, thank you for still believing in me and supporting me. I'm trying to do right and hang on."
Spitz offered to assist in her defense any way he could. His willingness to help amazed her attorneys and appalled some friends and relatives. "I always supported Pete, but I could never understand his unquestioning devotion to her after the shooting," says his friend John Hunter.
People told him he was much too forgiving. Spitz disagreed.
"I'm not a forgiving guy," he says. "But you don't have to forgive somebody for being ill. If she'd been driving a car and had a brain aneurysm, and my mother had been killed and I had been injured, would I have to forgive her for that?"
The decision had its price. Lee was still in the care of the Reynoldses, who had obtained a court-appointed guardianship while Spitz was recovering from his injuries. ("I was told he either goes into foster care or I give them guardianship," he says.) As a defense witness, Spitz could have little contact with his son, since the guardians were listed as witnesses for the prosecution. And his defiance of the no-contact order with Teresa led to heated words with the prosecutors, one of whom threatened to charge him as an accessory after the fact. Spitz began to feel as if he and Teresa were "the two most hated people in Colorado."
"Peter Spitz is a strong cup of coffee," Franks says now. "He never had any reluctance in expressing how he felt. I'm fine with that. At heart, this is a domestic-violence case. That he testified on her behalf isn't particularly surprising, if you understand the domestic-violence dynamic."
At trial, the defense presented witnesses who testified about Teresa's troubled childhood, including the violent scene of her stepfather's death. But even Miller, the defense's own expert, was skeptical of her claim to have a direct memory of the event, as well as the suggestion that such an early shock could trigger some form of post-traumatic stress. While the defense argued for a history of depression and emotional and financial pressures leading to a psychotic break, the prosecution tried to present a portrait of a rational, calculating killer whose alleged personality defects — narcissism, sociopathy, a distinct lack of sympathy for her victims — were untreatable.
But that portrait was undercut by her husband when he took the stand. Spitz wasn't allowed to plead directly for mercy, but his tearful, loving account of his life with Teresa prior to the shooting certainly didn't hurt her cause. What else but insanity could have prompted the defendant to destroy it all?
The jury deliberated for ten hours and came back with the verdict Spitz had hoped for: not guilty by reason of insanity. Instead of prison, Teresa would be sent to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (CMHIP), until such time as she was considered no longer a danger to the public.
Jury foreman Robert Graf says that Spitz's testimony was one factor among many that led to the verdict. "It was certainly unusual," he says. "He struck me as a stand-up guy. It was a difficult decision, but I really believe we got it right."
As in all murder trials, there was plenty the jury didn't know about — awkward and painful details that Spitz himself only learned over time.
During the months she spent before trial at the Arapahoe County jail, Spitz says, his wife was romantically involved with two other female inmates. She later admitted both relationships to him. One of the women even stayed with him briefly after being released, before he realized that Teresa's "friend" was something more than that — and prone to helping herself to other people's money and property.
The "friend" then moved in with Spitz's next-door neighbors for a few months, until they, too, asked her to leave. The neighbors, Tonya and Chris Martinez, kept some of the woman's property for back rent. Among the items were drawings and letters from Teresa, which Tonya Martinez read with increasing alarm.
One letter gave a detailed account of the night of the shooting. Years later, Martinez still remembers it vividly. "It was like reading a novel," she says. "There was a lot of planning. I don't think she intentionally meant to murder Peter's mom. In the letter, she showed a lot of affection toward her. But she said, 'The bitch walked out at the wrong time.'
"She wrote that she's going to get out and finish the job that she was meant to do. She said she wants Peter dead, simple as that. She was unhappy for a very long time with Peter. I think she wanted a woman, basically. And she said she has another person in her head, a little boy talking in her head."
Psychiatrists on both sides of the Spitz case ruled out any possibility of a multiple personality disorder. But Martinez says Teresa's friend claimed to have met the little boy when the pair celled together: "She said sometimes they'd be talking, and the little boy would come out and start cussing her out, that she was a bitch and if she fucked with her, she'd kill her, too. And she'd just say, 'Teresa, tell the little boy to go to sleep.'"
Martinez believes she saw a glimpse of Teresa's darker side the one time she visited her in jail, accompanied by her ex-cellmate. "She comes off as very smart, someone who can trick you into believing everything she says," Martinez says. "I was expecting this lady to be real sad — but not even a little bit, dude. She liked being there. She liked the attention she got."
Martinez showed the letter to Peter Spitz, who arranged for it to be turned over to the defense team. It was never mentioned at trial.
After she'd been at the state hospital for a year, Teresa filed for divorce and petitioned the court to change her name. "She told me that was part of her therapy," Spitz recalls, "and that changing her name would make it easier for her when she got out. As slow as I am, that's probably when it dawned on me that it was over."
In court documents, CMHIP officials describe the progress Teresa Lynn has made over the past five years in glowing terms. In less than five months, she was moved from a maximum-security forensic unit to one that falls somewhere between intermediate and minimum security. And she went from being highly monitored in all her activities to what's known as ONGU, or on-grounds unsupervised privileges, meaning that her movements are far less restricted or observed.
Lynn has taken a battery of classes and therapy sessions and has become a "peer coach" in a program that allows her to mentor other patients. "She is pleasant and displays a good sense of humor with both patients and staff," reads one report. "She has demonstrated both that she is responsible and a good role model for her peers."
Lynn didn't respond to a request for an interview, but it's clear that she's a rising star in an intensive, highly confidential treatment process that's supposed to prepare people judged criminally insane for an eventual return to society. The state hospital has more than 300 such patients at any given time; roughly half of them are on some form of conditional release or community placement. The average length of stay for a patient found not guilty by reason of insanity is less than nine years. CMHIP claims to have successfully released more than 150 of its long-term court commitments over the past decade, a decision that's ultimately made by a district judge.
Spitz says his ex-wife has an e-mail account, a cell phone and other privileges. Aside from a couple of reported incidents in which she was observed "attempting to engage in sexual activity with a male peer," she has no history of misconduct and isn't considered an escape risk. Early last year, Judge Michael Spear ruled that she could be granted "temporary physical removal" status, allowing her to leave the hospital on shopping trips and other community outings, provided that she stays within five feet of a staff member at all times.
Hospital officials are now pushing for "full" removal status for Lynn, a major step that will allow her to leave hospital grounds unsupervised — first for short periods of time, and then, gradually, for more sustained trips. The district attorney's office has objected, and the matter is set for a hearing before Spear next month. "The question is no longer if she's criminally liable, but whether she's a danger to herself or others," says Franks. "This is a very serious business. If you look at her prior conduct, there have to be concerns whether she's going to hurt someone else in the future."
CMHIP superintendent John DeQuardo points out that his patients haven't been convicted of a crime and consequently don't have a fixed sentence to serve. He's frustrated that there's a public perception that people who commit violent acts because of a treatable mental illness deserve to be locked away forever, even if they respond well to medication and therapy.
"People are not here to do time," he says. "Their return to the community should be driven by their progress in their individual treatment plan. But this has become a completely politicized process. You have district attorneys who care less about the patient's record in treatment than their own reputations, and there are some cases that are just media circuses."
Spitz has a very specific concern about the degree of Lynn's future contact with their son, who's now seven years old. CMHIP program directors have supported her efforts to resume "her role as a parent," despite the fact that she admitted to Miller and others that she'd had "bad thoughts" about hurting Lee, too. A few weeks before the shootings, she'd even contemplated drowning him, an incident Spitz didn't find out about until many months later.
"She'd been giving him a bath, and she let him slip under the water," Spitz says. "I'm not clear on what happened next. Teresa told me that my mom asked from another room if she needed any help, and it startled her. She also said the baby was smiling from the water because he thought she was playing. Then she pulled him out."
Lynn has had several visits a year with Lee, either in the hospital or on trips to the Denver area, accompanied by a hospital staffer. She has never been left alone with him. Spitz says he's raised concerns about Lee's safety with his guardians, to no avail: "They say it wasn't a deliberate effort, she's never alone with him, she's in a controlled environment. They pretty much blew it off."
But Don Reynolds, Lee's guardian, says he's seen nothing in Lynn's interactions with her son that would contradict the positive review of her from her treatment team. "I talk to her and her therapists regularly," he says. "When someone is doing everything they can do to get better, I think they should be able to take that next step. Is it too soon? I don't know. It's not up to me to be the judge on that."
Spitz himself has been denied any access to his son since last spring. After the trial, he saw Lee regularly and often had him for an entire weekend. But his relationship with Don and Sheila Reynolds has become strained, with disagreements over whether he can provide a "suitable environment" for his son. Spitz sought to terminate the guardianship at one point, arguing that he was capable of raising his son himself, but the judge rejected the motion. Then Spitz's visits were cut off entirely, based on a therapist's recommendation that the move would be in the best interest of his son.
"I was told he was having difficulty transitioning between us," Spitz says. "When he's with me, he's great. But they say he's throwing tantrums when he gets back to them."
Reynolds declined to comment on Spitz's version of the dispute. His attorney, Bonnie Saltzman, declines to go into specifics but insists that the guardians have legitimate "safety, health and welfare concerns" about the environment Spitz provides for his son. "They're not insurmountable," she says. "We know that Mr. Spitz loves this child dearly." The two sides are in discussions now and hope to resolve the situation, she adds.
Spitz is frustrated that the therapist never bothered to observe or evaluate his interactions with Lee. People who have spent time with the two of them describe Spitz as a doting father and say Lee thrives with him, taking his blindness in stride and eagerly guiding him at the mall.
"I find the guy kind of remarkable," says Roger Primm, an RTD bus driver who befriended Spitz at church. "He's good with his son, and he has a good attitude about life — especially the hand that he's been dealt. He's a good Marine."
"I don't see anything wrong with him raising his own child," says Benjamin Spitz, the youngest son from Spitz's first marriage, now a Marine staff sergeant who's seen three tours in Iraq. "I really look up to my father. He's given me a lot of learning points. Being with him and [Lee] when I'm on leave has really been something to look forward to."
But in his battle to reunite with his son, Spitz has had to contend not only with opposition from the guardians, but an unexpected volley from his ex. At a hearing last May, Lynn announced that she was concerned that Spitz (the man she tried to kill) might harm Lee (the son she tried to drown) in the future.
"Teresa stood up in court and accused me of being a child molester," he says. The allegation apparently stemmed from an e-mail exchange the two had had, in which Spitz wrote something about how he was so lonely he might be reduced to cruising nursing homes or buying an "underage girl" in Latin America — some off-color joking around, Spitz says, that wasn't unusual in their communications.
The accusation didn't go anywhere, but it was the last straw for Spitz. He now keeps his contact with Lynn to a minimum. "What I've seen over the last six years is that she's totally focused on herself," he says. "She wants her freedom. She really thinks she's going to be back in our son's life. But she's been so vindictive and dishonest. She's been working very hard against me, and she's never defended me when I needed her."
Spitz has hired a new attorney and is seeking to resume visits with his son. It's all he cares about now.
"It sucks being blind," he says. "I've had a lot of health issues. I also have no sense of smell, which drives me nuts. But the worst thing, day by day, is not being able to have my son."
Tonya Martinez remembers how hesitant her former neighbor was, in his first weeks after rehab, about everything from leaving his apartment to cooking a meal when he couldn't smell it burning. But he found a mighty purpose in trying to save what was left of his family.
"Peter doesn't have a lot of people right now," she says. "It's just him and his dark little world. If he had his son there, I think it would help him see the bright side. That's his life. That's his blood supply right there."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.