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Man Pleads Guilty in Lawyer's Abduction

By Jamie Stockwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 23, 2005; Page B06

A 38-year-old Alexandria man pleaded guilty yesterday for his role in the Dec. 7 abduction of a lawyer who was dragged from his home at gunpoint and taken to a freshly dug grave as part of a plot to force him to drop a lawsuit.

David M. Kluttz and two other men posing as federal law enforcement officers abducted the lawyer, Kenneth Labowitz, from his Alexandria home, and Kluttz was the mastermind, the prosecutor said.

"Kluttz removed his handgun from its holster, held it in [Labowitz's] face, and told him to drop the case at the hearing the next day, or he would kill him and his family," said Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney S. Randolph Sengel.

At the hearing in Alexandria Circuit Court, Kluttz pleaded guilty to abduction, burglary and various weapon charges. He faces up to life in prison, plus 44 years, when he is sentenced Aug. 23. But Circuit Court Judge J. Howe Brown said he will take into consideration that Kluttz has mental problems and no prior criminal record.

His attorney, Denny Dobbins, said his client has undergone psychiatric treatment for about 20 years.

"It was a group of challenged individuals who were pushed by the legal system, and as a result, they acted in ways that were inappropriate," Dobbins said. "My client, he just snapped."

Aubrey "Mike" Berryman, 26, pleaded guilty last month to similar charges. Frederick A. Baruday, 75, has a preliminary hearing scheduled for May 18.

Sengel said the abduction had a clear motive: to force Labowitz to drop a lawsuit that would remove Kluttz and Baruday as beneficiaries of the will of one of Labowitz's clients. The estate was worth $750,000 to $1 million, he said.

Labowitz was the appointed guardian of Eloise O'Connor, who was declared incompetent by a judge in late 2003. O'Connor's will left her estate to her nephew, Baruday. But Labowitz alleged in a lawsuit -- which was to be litigated in court the morning after his abduction -- that Kluttz, who lived in O'Connor's building, had changed the will to say that her property should be left to him and his family after Baruday's death.

About 11:20 that night, Kluttz was holding a rifle and wearing dark blue military-style fatigues, a mask and a fake police badge when he showed up at Labowitz's front door, Sengel said. Berryman, with a baseball cap pulled over his face, zapped Labowitz's wife with a stun gun. The men handcuffed the lawyer and drove him in a Volkswagen Toureg with flashing red and blue lights to a wooded area near the Watergate at Landmark condominium, he said.

Labowitz was then taken to the grave, which was "large enough to hold an adult body," Sengel said. He was struck repeatedly on the head with a flashlight and shocked 10 to 12 times with the stun gun. Labowitz agreed to drop the lawsuit.

Residents at the Watergate saw something suspicious and summoned police. Police arrested Baruday. Kluttz and Berryman fled on foot and were arrested the next day.

After the hearing, Labowitz stood among about a dozen relatives and friends. He declined to talk about his abduction.

"I'm glad the system functions as it should," Labowitz said.

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