Triple homicide suspect granted change of venue

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Ted Sullivan
June 11, 2009
— Janesville's triple homicide suspect will be tried before jurors from outside Rock County.

James Koepp, 50, can't get a fair trial with local jurors because media exposure might have influenced their opinions on the case, Judge Alan Bates decided.

Koepp's trial will be in Rock County, but the jury pool will be drawn from an outlying area, Bates ruled.

"The most important job of a judge in any criminal matter is to make certain that the parties receive a fair trial," Bates wrote in a May 28 written decision.

"The court also believes the trial process will be simplified and the expense minimized by picking a jury from a county that has not had the same level of news coverage," Bates wrote.

Koepp faces three charges of first-degree intentional homicide in the January 2007 slayings of Danyetta Lentz and her teenage children, Nicole and Scott.

His attorney, Walter Isaacson, argued in his written motion asking for a change of venue that newspaper, radio, television and Internet reports made it impossible for Koepp to get a fair trial with a Rock County jury.

Isaacson argued that publicity surrounding the case has been unrelenting.

He lists about 40 articles or editorials from the Gazette or GazetteXtra.com to support his claim. He also quotes about 40 radio reports from WCLO/WJVL.

The publicity would leave any potential juror with the impression that Koepp is a criminal, sex offender and bad person, Isaacson wrote. It also leads people to believe law enforcement has no doubt Koepp is guilty.

In response, District Attorney David O'Leary and Deputy District Attorney Perry Folts wrote in court records that there's no way to know how many potential jurors have been exposed to media reports.

The defense attorney also failed to show whether the publicity was prejudicial and tainted the jury pool, they wrote.

The judge acknowledged in his decision that other methods could be used to find impartial jurors.

Attorneys could question prospective jurors individually, submit jury questionnaires or request a larger jury pool than normal, Bates said.

The judge also acknowledged the defense didn't have evidence regarding the media's impact on local residents.

News reports, however, included information that might be inadmissible at trial, Bates said.

And the defense doesn't have to prove prejudice in the jury pool, he said.

Eldred Mielke, Rock County clerk of court, said the judge will decide where to select jurors.

The judge, his staff and attorneys will go to the county to select the jury, Mielke said.

Jurors will be bussed to Rock County and given a hotel room and meals during the trial, he said. The jury will be sequestered.

The cost of bringing in jurors would depend on the length of trial, Mielke said.

Koepp's trial is scheduled to begin in January.

If convicted, he faces three life terms.

Koepp remains in prison serving a sentence for felony fleeing.

He is scheduled to be in court Tuesday, June 30, for a status hearing.

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