Janesville66.5°

Koepp pleads guilty to traffic charges

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Mike DuPre'
March 30, 2007

James C. Koepp says he wasn't himself the night he was supposed to be interviewed about a triple homicide but instead led Rock County sheriff's deputies on a chase.


"I was out of character," he said in court Friday. "I have no idea why I was so stupid that night."


Described by the sheriff's department as the sole suspect in the murders of Danyetta Lentz and her teenage children, Nicole and Scott, Koepp pleaded guilty Friday morning to two of the charges resulting from the chase.


His sentence has several parts, but the essence of it is four years in prison, starting within two weeks at Dodge Correctional Institution, and five years extended supervision.


Koepp's guilty pleas and prison sentence will not affect the ongoing investigation into the Lentz killings, Deputy District Attorney Perry Folts said.


The surprise hearing Friday slipped under the radar of most court observers. Koepp's court appearances typically draw several, if not many, reporters, but only one was in court Friday.


Sheriff Bob Spoden has repeatedly said that Koepp is the only suspect in the murders, and on March 6, the sheriff said his department's investigation was substantially done.


But District Attorney David O'Leary said a week ago that the investigation is continuing because he did not yet have enough evidence to persuade a jury of Koepp's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.


Koepp's impending prison sentence removes the traffic case from any legal deadlines and gives investigators and prosecutors breathing room on the triple homicide because there is no statute of limitations on murder cases.


Koepp's statement to court Friday was:


"I know this sounds kind of lame, and you hear it every day, but the actions I showed that night were not typical of me. I have no excuse. I was in a desperate situation, and I knew I was going to end up getting divorced, so I think logically I was pretty confused.


"That did not excuse what I did, and after I saw, after it became relevant to me the next day and they told me what I did, I was extremely embarrassed, and I do apologize to the sheriff's department and to the district attorney's office and anybody else involved for my actions.


"Like I said, they are not normal for me. I was out of character. I have no idea why I was so stupid that night, and I do apologize to this court and everyone."


Since his arrest, the Koepps have filed jointly for divorce.


Koepp's mentioning divorce to the court underscores one of the case's mysteries: Was Koepp having an affair with Danyetta Lentz, as his wife, Nancy, thinks and as several of Koepp's statements indicate? Or is he laying the groundwork to explain why his DNA might be in incriminating places in the Lentzes' mobile home?


Koepp, 48, and the Lentzes were neighbors in Janesville Terrace, 3315 S. Highway 51.


The night of the chase, Jan. 16, Koepp, agitated and crying, told arresting 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 filed against him.


Also that day and night, he made comments to sheriff's investigators that pointed to an affair with Danyetta.


Earlier, after he missed the voluntary interview, Koepp, crying and apparently drunk, called a detective and said: "I didn't do it. ...If I come forward, I'm going to lose my wife," according to court documents.


During a second call to the investigator, Koepp said: "I didn't do anything. I didn't f--- kill anyone. ...I was stupid. I was stupid. I did a dumb f---g thing."


The same day, a female detective was in Koepp's home interviewing Nancy when Koepp called. The detective asked Nancy if she wanted her to talk to her husband.


Though she identified herself, "it was obvious he thought I was his wife," the detective wrote. "He kept saying, 'I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," according to the documents.


During a second call, the detective again tried to identify herself.


Apparently still thinking he was talking to his wife, Koepp kept saying: "I love you. I'm so sorry. It only happened once, and I know I f--d you over."


However, Danyetta's father, Russ Lucht, said he spent every weekend with his daughter and there was no way she was having an affair with Koepp.


The chase resulted in charges of first-degree recklessly endangering safety, fleeing an officer and drunken-driving and driving with a prohibited alcohol concentration, both of the latter as third offenses.


Koepp pleaded guilty to the drunken-driving and endangering safety charges and waived a pre-sentence investigation and report, which would have taken 60 days and kept him in Rock County Jail, instead of prison.


The typical process to get an inmate from the county jail to prison takes about two weeks.


Koepp's attorneys and the district attorney's office reached an agreement to drop the other two traffic charges, and Koepp waived a motion filed just Tuesday to dismiss the endangering safety charge.


He also was sentenced to 45 days in jail and a $1,335 fine on the drunken driving conviction with the fine converted to 27 days in jail. But the OWI sentence will run concurrently with the endangering sentence.


The entire sentence-four years in prison and five years extended supervision-is appropriate given the facts of the case and Koepp's criminal record, Folts said.


Koepp has been convicted of several crimes, the most serious being the simultaneous sexual assaults at knifepoint of two women in Dane County in 1982. That conviction put Koepp in prison for several years.


The DA's office agreed to drop the fleeing charge because it essentially duplicated the endangering charge, Folts said.


He explained that the endangerment stemmed from Koepp's flight and a fleeing conviction probably would have resulted in another concurrent sentence, not more time behind bars.



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