Janesville73.5°

Victim's neighbors give DNA

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Mike DuPre'
February 23, 2007
— "Routine part of the investigation" is how Cmdr. Tom Gehl this morning described the recent gathering of DNA samples from men in Janesville Terrace.

Gehl is managing the Rock County Sheriff's Department's investigation into the slayings exactly six weeks ago of Danyetta Lentz and her teenage children, Scott and Nicole, in their mobile home.


The sole suspect in the case, James C. Koepp, was their neighbor in the mobile home park at 3315 S. Highway 51. Held in jail on traffic charges, Koepp has not yet been charged with the murders.


Investigators have not revealed whether any DNA evidence has been found, but the recent gathering of samples indicates it has.


Gehl confirmed investigators have been taking DNA samples from all men in the mobile home park, reportedly about 40.


"We've been taking elimination samples," Gehl said. "We're taking samples to use as the basis for the elimination of persons who could have been legitimately in the trailer-if that becomes necessary."


The sample gathering has been ongoing for about two weeks, "as we can locate the people," Gehl said.


The latest wrinkle in the case sparked worry at Janesville Terrace and reinforced speculation.


"I couldn't figure it out, why they're testing us, if they got the right guy," Janesville Terrace resident William Erdman said this morning.


Erdman, 70, said he was approached by an investigator and asked for a voluntary sample-a swab from the inside of each cheek.


"I asked him why, and he said they had never been refused before," Erdman said. "He told me all the men who lived here were having it done."


But the investigator would not reveal the reason for the samples, Erdman said.


"The girl who lives with me, she was terrified they had the wrong guy," he added.


The sample gathering is routine, and samples from the mobile home park residents will not be entered into any general database, Gehl said.


He said he had not heard any Janesville Terrace residents had refused to give samples.


The day Koepp's arrest was announced-on both suspicion of murder and four traffic charges-Rock County District Attorney David O'Leary said his office would charge Koepp with the murders within two days.


But O'Leary backed off, citing the need for more evidence. He and Sheriff Bob Spoden said they were awaiting results of analysis of potential evidence from the State Crime Laboratory.


The crime lab sent a mobile unit to the Lentz home to gather evidence on its own, and Spoden said his investigators had sent dozens of pieces of evidence to the lab for analysis.


Conversations with other investigators indicate that six weeks is not a long time to wait for crime lab results. Spoden has been steadfast in statements that Koepp is the only suspect.


The sheriff would not talk with a reporter this morning because he was preparing to meet with O'Leary today to review the massive report the investigation has generated.


Gehl was asked if the samples were being gathered now because the crime lab analysis had found male DNA other than Koepp's in the Lentz trailer.


"Remember I said 'if necessary,'" Gehl replied. "There's nothing special in the timing."


Because people's memories fade with time, investigators first concentrate on gathering observations and recollections of potential witnesses, Gehl said.


"The DNA is going to be there for elimination samples," he said. "It's a step we take further on down the line."


Koepp was known to be in the Lentz trailer at least once-to fix a window sometime before the Lentzes were discovered slain the morning of Jan. 12.


Explaining the reasons for Koepp's arrest soon after the murders, Spoden said one of the reasons for suspecting him was his personal relationship with one of the victims. Statements made by Koepp and included in affidavits used to get search warrants indicated he might have had-or at least said he had-an intimate relationship with Danyetta.


The samples recently taken might not even be tested, Gehl said, adding, though, that crime lab analysis of evidence in the case is ongoing.


Speculation about the case has cut both ways.


Because of the quickness of Koepp's arrest but the delay in filing charges, some in local legal community think the case against him is weak. Some people wonder how one person could have killed an adult and two teenagers in a small mobile home.


Others have said preliminary crime lab analysis implicates Koepp.


Spoden said earlier that he had not seen preliminary test results.


Another of the reasons Spoden gave for Koepp's arrest was "the fact that Mr. Koepp's violent criminal history reflects previous criminal acts that involve the use of a knife and threats to kill his victims."


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.


Evidence gathered indicates the victims were stabbed. Among items gathered from in or near the Lentz and Koepp homes were knives, scissors and pruning shears.



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