DA won't file murder charges against Koepp yet

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Mike DuPre'
Saturday, January 20, 2007

An apparently frustrated Rock County District Attorney David O'Leary gave more "no comments" than curt answers when swarmed by reporters after the media learned Friday that O'Leary decided to not yet file multiple murder charges against James C. Koepp.

Koepp, previously described by Sheriff Bob Spoden as the sole suspect in the triple homicide of a Janesville family last week, nevertheless was ordered held in lieu of $60,000 cash bond because of four traffic charges.

When he was arrested on the traffic charges, Koepp made statements that implicated him in the murders of Danyetta Lentz, 38, and her children, Nicole, 17, and Scott, 14, according to the criminal complaint listing the traffic charges.

"I didn't mean to kill anyone," Koepp said, the complaint alleges.

The Lentzes were found slain in their mobile home the morning of Jan. 12 just south of Janesville.

Despite Koepp's statements, O'Leary still doesn't think he has enough evidence yet to win a conviction.

"I'm not happy to be here. I'm not happy to not file charges," O'Leary told the bevy of reporters bristling with cameras and questions.

O'Leary then said he would have no further comment and walked away.

In the unlikely event that Koepp makes bond, the sheriff's department plans to keep tabs on him 24/7.

In a brief press release issued earlier Friday, O'Leary said in part:

"Based upon the investigative reports, based upon a discussion with the analyst assigned the case from the State Crime Laboratory and based upon a discussion with ...the pathologist who conducted the autopsies, the Rock County district attorney will not be filing criminal charges concerning the deaths at this time.

"Currently, there is insufficient evidence to meet the criminal burden of proof.

"The criminal investigation into the deaths will continue."

Koepp, 47, and the victims were neighbors in Janesville Terrace, a mobile home park at 3315 S. Highway 51, Janesville.

O'Leary said sheriff's department investigators and his office still were awaiting analysis of potential DNA evidence taken from the crime scene and the suspect and for final autopsy results on the causes and times of the deaths.

"We need the investigation to be complete before we file homicide charges," the district attorney said.

O'Leary expects to get those results in a week or two.

Regardless, it is unlikely that Koepp will be free soon.

Koepp had volunteered to be interviewed by detectives Tuesday night as a "person of interest" in the Lentz killings. Instead, he was found driving drunk and fled from deputies, resulting in his arrest on several traffic charges, including two felonies, the sheriff's department reported.

Court Commissioner Stephen Meyer imposed the $60,000 cash bond on Koepp on Friday afternoon.

The bond breakdown is $25,000 each on charges of knowingly fleeing an officer and first-degree reckless endangerment and $5,000 each on third-offense drunken driving and third-offense driving with a prohibited alcohol concentration.

"He can't put up that bond, so I don't think he will be released," said Larry Peterson, one of two assistant public defenders initially assigned to the case.

Asked if he thought people should be afraid because "the real killer" was still at large, Peterson said:

"I don't think people should be afraid. People should take care of themselves day to day and have faith in the court system."

Peterson said he appreciated that the district attorney was taking time to receive and analyze the evidence.

"A lot of people don't think he's the type of person who could commit this crime," Peterson said of Koepp.

Koepp led deputies on a chase in a wide circle south of Janesville. At one point, he sped westbound at 80 mph in an eastbound lane of Highway 11, causing the drivers of about five vehicles to swerve to avoid collision, the criminal complaint alleges.

Deputies finally stopped Koepp by deploying spiked stop sticks to blow out his tires and by using a moving roadblock to hem him in, according to the complaint.

When he was arrested, 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 complaint.

Koepp's blood alcohol level at the time was 0.13, the complaint alleges. Wisconsin's legal threshold for intoxication is 0.08.

Sheriff Spoden issued his own news release Friday.

"The Rock County Sheriff's Department made the right decision, for public safety reasons, to arrest James C. Koepp in this investigation. That decision was made with the concurrence of the district attorney," the sheriff said.

Spoden listed the reasons for Koepp's arrest:

-- Koepp's presence at the crime scene at the time investigators believe the murders occurred.

-- Incriminating statements made by Koepp to law enforcement and others.

-- Untruthful statements made by Koepp to investigators.

-- "A very telling timeline" as to when the crime was committed.

-- Koepp's personal relationship with one of the victims.

-- His flight from law enforcement after he failed to appear for a voluntary interview.

-- Koepp's stated intent to leave the area.

-- His violent criminal history, including using a knife and threatening to kill 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.

"While the role of law enforcement is to act in the interest of public safety, we understand that the district attorney has a different role in our legal system, and his decision to prosecute a case is based on different criteria than the decision to make an arrest," Spoden said.

"We wish to assure the citizens of Rock County that we are committed to their safety. Our investigation of this horrific crime is continuing," the sheriff said. "If Mr. Koepp is released, it is our intent to place him under 24-hour surveillance by deputies until such time as a decision as to whether to charge or not is conclusively made."

Last updated: 8:19 am Monday, December 17, 2012

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