Evidence still lacking in Lentz case

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Mike DuPre'
Thursday, June 14, 2007

Five days after the three members of the Lentz family were murdered in their mobile home in January, Rock County sheriff's investigators thought they had the killer.

They arrested James C. Koepp. He was a neighbor of Danyetta Lentz and her teenage children, Nicole and Scott Lentz, in Janesville Terrace, 3315 S. Highway 51.

Five months later, Rock County District Attorney David O'Leary still has not filed murder charges against Koepp.

Koepp, 48, is in prison on a four-year sentence for recklessly endangering safety when he led deputies on a chase the night he was supposed to be talking to detectives about the Lentz murders.

Sheriff Bob Spoden remains convinced his officers arrested the right man.

O'Leary said his office doesn't have sufficient evidence to prove Koepp's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Tuesday, Deputy District Attorney Perry Folts said again that the DA's office still has not received all reports on analysis of potential evidence.

The State Crime Laboratory has not delivered its summary report on the complex crime scene-which piece of evidence was where, for instance, Folts said.

And the transfer to another agency of potential evidence that the crime lab does not have the capability to analyze was delayed, he said.

Much physical evidence has been analyzed, Folts added.

None of the principal authorities in the case is commenting publicly on the evidence because they are worried about jeopardizing the case.

And while they aren't saying what physical evidence might implicate Koepp, they haven't said he is off the hook, so the evidence apparently does not exonerate him.

Cops outside the sheriff's department think their county colleagues got the right suspect.

If anything, investigators might have found too much evidence in the close quarters of a trailer home where three people were strangled and stabbed.

While some evidence might implicate Koepp, other evidence could cloud the issue by suggesting that another person might have been involved.

A confused or uncertain jury would have reasonable doubt and acquit Koepp. Because of the constitutional protection of double jeopardy, the state would be barred from filing the same homicide charges against him if new evidence was found or if a witness came forward, even if Koepp later confessed.

But because Koepp will be in prison for several years, authorities have time-and less urgency-to try to make sure they have all the evidence they can get and to try to tie up all the case's many loose ends.

Homicide has no statute of limitations, so no clock is ticking on the Lentz murders. Charges could be filed years from now.

Juries are notoriously unpredictable.

Kurt Prochaska was convicted recently of burglarizing Michael Rainiero's Janesville home. Prochaska's defense was that he needed to use the bathroom, so he climbed on the roof, pried off a vent and climbed through.

He fell through the ceiling. Rainiero shot the intruder once, in what O'Leary determined was self-defense.

As preposterous as Prochaska's claim was, the jury asked what the weather was the night of the crime. Word around the courthouse was that two or three men on the jury were leaning toward believing Prochaska's tale.

When O'Leary tried a murder case in 1997 against Nathan Briarmoon and Joseph Bequette in the beating death of Russell Miller, the community thought convictions would be a slam-dunk.

The prosecution had a witness who told the jurors she sat in the car while the defendants went into Miller's home and bludgeoned him to death. They bragged of what they did immediately after the killing, the witness told the jury.

The jurors didn't believe her. The defendants went free.

To this day, authorities think they arrested and charged the right suspects, but no one has been convicted of murdering Miller.

Last updated: 4:53 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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