Sen. Curt McKenzie of Nampa defended his wife Wednesday as more details emerged about her dealings with an Idaho inmate.
Idaho Department of Correction documents show that Renee McKenzie and Lance Wood, who is serving two life sentences for first-degree murder, discussed getting married and starting a private investigation business together.
Renee McKenzie served as Wood's court-appointed legal assistant from November to Feb. 14. She was allowed in-person visits at the Idaho State Correctional Institution in Kuna until they were suspended. Wood is suing the Idaho Department of Correction for sexual harassment, claiming that a female prison guard "perpetrated sexual acts on him without his consent."
On Monday, a federal judge ruled that Renee McKenzie overstepped her role assisting Wood in his case as the relationship between the two became inappropriate.
Wood had requested a court hearing, saying that the Idaho Department of Correction inappropriately recorded his phone calls with McKenzie and opened and reviewed his legal mail to her.
Curt McKenzie called the reports about his wife's actions "gossip."
"I am fair game because I ran for public office," he said. "But these stories attacking my wife - she's a caring, transparent and compassionate person and she was duped by a convicted murderer and con man."
Department of Correction documents raise concerns about Renee McKenzie's safety working with Wood and say that he has a history of manipulating staff and engaging in inappropriate emotional relationships.
The agency also expressed concern that Wood's interaction with Renee McKenzie could be a ploy to gain favor with or blackmail her husband.
Curt McKenzie said he had no other comment on the matter. Renee McKenzie could not be reached for comment Wednesday. She told The Associated Press on Tuesday that her relationship with Wood is "irrelevant."
Curt McKenzie told AP reporters that his wife has worked on parole cases and that he was notified of the prison's concerns in February. According to court documents, Renee McKenzie identified herself as being from the McKenzie Law Firm and prison officials "mistakenly believed that Ms. McKenzie was working under the direction of her husband." She was given "virtually unfettered" access to Wood, documents show.
Court records show that Wood and McKenzie had more than 100 hours of phone conversations between December and February.
"I'd love a one-on-one with (Idaho State Correctional Institution) Warden (Randy) Blades, with (Department of Correction Director Brent) Reinke," Renee McKenzie told Wood, according to phone transcripts.
"And every legislator in the Statehouse, do you hear me, every legislator in that Statehouse would stick up for me. I have spent years serving, serving, serving, never thinking of myself. So they picked the wrong person to mess with. Do you understand that?"
In an affidavit submitted to U.S. District Court on March 11, Renee McKenzie says Reinke approached Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill and went to the governor's office about her assistance to Wood, damaging Curt McKenzie's reputation.
"Sadly, Mr. McKenzie feels his personal and senate reputation is now so damaged, it may not be recoverable," Renee McKenzie said in her affidavit.
Hill could not be reached for comment. Gov. Butch Otter spokesman Jon Hanian declined comment.
"We won't have anything more to say about this," Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray said in a statement. "From the start, our focus has been the safe and secure operation of (the Idaho State Correctional Institution). That's been our priority every step of the way."
According to other phone transcripts, Renee McKenzie told Wood that he is a "good man" who has an "honest relationship" with God and is "different from any other man" she's known.
In a letter filed March 11, Renee McKenzie states that "IDOC's overreaction to a perceived 'love letter' and now possibly a phone call or two that someone deemed inappropriate, have nothing whatsoever to do with the Wood v. Martin case."
She continues to state, "I have been trying to address the problem of inmate clients having their 'legal mail' opened."
She also wrote: "I am not totally sure if the 'investigation by IDOC' is in relationship to me, Mr. Wood, or McKenzie Law. I am unsure what the 'investigation' entails - sexual predator' 'an escape plan or risk' or an 'institutional security risk.' I realize that my relationship from professional legal assistant to also a friendship with Mr. Wood has caused some problems with IDOC. My personal reputation has been smeared, over two illegally gotten letters that I never received and IDOC continues to try and pressure me to stop helping Mr. Wood."
Further into the letter, Renee McKenzie asks: "Why would a conservative, Christian Republican Idahoan go to such great lengths to continue to assist an Idaho inmate with two life sentences with his Federal Case against IDOC?"
She answers the question: "Because for years, I have heard and seen first-hand the horrific retaliatory, illegal, and harassing stories from inmates, inmate families and both current and past IDOC staff. What kind of person would I be, if I just walked away from what I have personally witnessed and not try to help in any way that I can?"