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Murder suspect enters plea in traffic case

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Mike DuPre'
February 7, 2007

Murder suspect James C. Koepp gave a one-word answer-"Yes"-when asked Tuesday if he understood the traffic charges against him.


Koepp remains in the Rock County Jail in lieu of $60,000 on four traffic charges, two of them felonies, and the terseness of his arraignment Tuesday on the traffic charges characterizes the events swirling around him.


Walt Isaacson, one of two assistant public defenders representing Koepp, entered not guilty pleas on behalf of his client Tuesday. The traffic case was assigned to Judge Alan Bates for a jury trial.


Koepp remains the sole suspect in the murders of Danyetta Lentz, 38, and her children, Nicole, 17, and Scott, 14.


But after Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden announced Koepp's arrest Jan. 17 on the traffic charges and suspicion of the triple homicide, Rock County District Attorney David O'Leary decided the investigation had not yet produced enough evidence to file formal charges of first-degree intentional homicide.


Since then, O'Leary has been mum on the case, and Spoden has played his cards close to the vest.


Both officials said they are awaiting final autopsy results and analysis of potential evidence by the State Crime Laboratory. The crime lab has assigned a top priority and a specific analyst to work only on the 72 items sent to it, Spoden said.


Spoden also has said he told his detectives to build as tight a case as possible so Koepp could be convicted without DNA evidence in case the lab's analyses do not produce results that incriminate him.


The traffic charges, including the felonies fleeing an officer and first-degree recklessly endangering safety, stemmed from a high-speed chase Jan. 16 at a time when Koepp was supposed to be interviewed as a "person of interest," not yet a suspect, in the Lentz murders.


When he was eventually stopped, Koepp, extremely upset and crying, told deputies: "I just wanted to say goodbye to my wife. ...I didn't mean to kill anyone. ...Why are you worried about a drunk driving when you are pinning three murders on me?" according to the criminal complaint against him.


Walt Isaacson, one of two assistant public defenders representing Koepp, entered not guilty pleas on behalf of his client Tuesday. The traffic case was assigned to Judge Alan Bates for a jury trial.


Koepp rocked back and forth in his chair during the short hearing. It was conducted via teleconference between Koepp and Isaacson at the jail and court officials in the Rock County Courthouse downtown.


The Lentzes were found slain Jan. 12 in their mobile home at Janesville Terrace, 3315 S. Highway 51, Janesville.


Koepp, 47, was their neighbor in the trailer park.


Koepp is a convicted sex offender who served prison time for a 1982 assault in Dane County in which he forced two women at knifepoint to perform sex acts, including intercourse with him.


The official causes of death for the Lentzes were given as "complex homicidal violence," meaning each could have been killed by more than one method. Court documents listing the reasons for and items found in search warrants indicate they were stabbed.



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