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Evidence sufficient to try Koepp in murders

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Mike DuPre'
April 16, 2008
— Danyetta Lentz fought ferociously with her killer.

“She was very resistant. She was putting up a fight for herself and presumably her children,” Dr. Michael Stier testified in court Tuesday.


Lentz was a “robust, healthy, non-intoxicated woman. … She was not a pushover,” said Stier, the pathologist who performed autopsies on Lentz and her teenage children, Nicole and Scott.


Stier testified Tuesday in the preliminary hearing for James C. Koepp, 49, a prison inmate who once was the Lentzes’ neighbor in Janesville Terrace, a mobile home park at 3315 S. Highway 51.


Court Commissioner Steve Meyer ruled that Koepp, 49, probably committed a felony in connection with murders of the Lentzes.


Prosecutors did not offer their theory of how one person could kill three others—an adult and two teens—single handedly without a gun in a small mobile home.


Their case Tuesday was based on physical evidence.


From questions they asked at the preliminary hearing, it appears assistant public defenders Walt Isaacson and Larry Peterson will try to cast doubt on the physical evidence, including how it was gathered and handled.


Although Koepp was ordered to stand trial, the defense attorneys have a motion on file to dismiss the charges against their client. They say the evidence is not sufficient.


A hearing on that motion has not yet been scheduled.


Danyetta’s father, Russ Lucht, found his daughter and her children slain in their mobile home. Danyetta was 38; Nicole, 17, and Scott, 14.


Based on the ligature furrow left on her neck, Danyetta fought with her murderer, and it took a “matter of minutes” for her to be killed, Stier said.


Strangulation by ligature—a ligature is an instrument, some form of cord, rope or fabric—was the principal cause of death for Danyetta, although she also was stabbed many times, Stier said.


But some of the stab wounds to Danyetta and Scott, who also was strangled, were administered after they died or as they were dying because they did not bleed or did not bleed much from the stab wounds, Stier said.


Pinpoint bleeding found in Scott’s eyes and other evidence “lead me to conclude he was strangled by a ligature,” the pathologist testified.


Nicole, too, was strangled and stabbed, but she bled heavily and internally after being stabbed four times in the back, Stier said.


“Nicole was likely breathing when the wounds were applied,” he said.


While Stier’s testimony was the most dramatic and detailed of three witnesses called by the prosecution, reports from the Wisconsin State Crime Lab were the most damaging to Koepp.


Rock County Detective Richard Kamholz testified he questioned Koepp three days after the bodies were found. Koepp denied being in the Lentzes’ trailer the night they were killed and even handed over the pants and shirt he was wearing that day.


Kamholz said he immediately noticed reddish stains on the clothes. He went back to visit Koepp two days later. Koepp told him he was in the Lentzes’ trailer the night of the murders, but only for an hour.


The crime lab reported that stains found on the blue jeans were blood and contained DNA that matched Danyetta’s.


In addition, a stain on a denim shirt that Kamholz said Koepp gave him was blood and contained a mix of DNA from four people, and the DNA was consistent with DNA from Koepp and the Lentzes, according to the crime lab report.


The reports eliminated Koepp as the source of DNA found on key pieces of evidence, including the scarf-like cloth found tied around Danyetta’s neck. Lack of a person’s DNA on a piece of evidence does not mean, however, that he or she did not handle it.


Meyer continued Koepp’s $750,000 bond on the three charges of first-degree intentional homicide.


Koepp remains in custody at Columbia Correctional Institution, where he is serving a prison sentence for felony fleeing. He led Rock County deputies on a chase when he was supposed to be talking to investigators about the murders.


Meyer scheduled Koepp’s next court hearing for 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 14. At the arraignment, Koepp is expected to enter not guilty pleas.



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