Cellmate testimony center of triple homicide trial

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Ted Sullivan
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
— Defense attorneys for James Koepp called their own jailhouse snitch as a witness Monday in attempt to discredit one of Koepp’s cellmates who testified earlier for the prosecution.

Kenneth Erdmann, Koepp’s former cellmate, testified Thursday that Koepp admitted to killing Danyetta Lentz and her teenage children, Nicole and Scott, during private conversations in the Columbia Correctional Institution.

Jose Soto, another inmate, discredited Erdmann’s testimony Monday, saying Erdmann told him Koepp never confessed to the murders, but Erdmann would say anything for a reduced prison sentence.

Defense attorneys called several witnesses in the seventh day of trial in Rock County Court.

Koepp, 51, faces three charges of first-degree intentional homicide in the January 2007 killings.

Koepp told the judge he has decided not to testify in his own defense. Judge Alan Bates discussed Koepp's rights with him, and Koepp confirmed his decision.

Prosecutors claim Koepp killed the Lentzes because he didn’t want his wife to know about his affair with Danyetta and divorce him.

Defense attorneys claim Koepp was in the Lentz home the night of the murders but left before the slayings.

Jailhouse snitch

Erdmann testified Thursday for the prosecution, saying Koepp told him the Lentz family was eating pizza before their deaths.

Erdmann, a Latin King gang member, admitted he tried to get information from Koepp to offer it to the prosecution for a lighter prison sentence.

He also admitted he wanted to get moved into a minimum-security prison with more freedoms.

District Attorney David O’Leary never offered to help Erdmann in exchange for his testimony in Koepp's case, suggesting Erdmann told the truth.

On Monday, Soto, also an inmate at Columbia Correctional Institution, said Erdmann approached him about a plan to falsely testify against Koepp.

Erdmann told Soto he had read some of Koepp’s private case documents, Soto said.

Erdmann also told Soto that Koepp never confessed.

Under cross-examination, Deputy District Attorney Perry Folts asked Soto if he was in a rival gang of Erdmann's, suggesting he had reason to discredit Erdmann's story. He also asked Soto if he didn't like snitches.

Soto said he was in a different gang than Erdmann, although not a rival gang. He also said he didn't have an opinion on snitches.

Criticizing the investigation

Gene Gietzen, an expert in crime scene reconstruction, testified for the defense Monday that investigators didn't analyze key pieces of evidence in the case.

He said he analyzed crime reports and photos from the murders. He said he could not reconstruct what happened in the Lentz home because evidence was altered.

Blood splatter, body positioning and blood patterns indicated evidence was moved, removing the opportunity to know what happened that night, Gietzen said.

For instance, Nicole’s arm was moved after her death, he said. Scott’s body also appeared to be rolled.

DNA testing also wasn't done on some blood at the scene when it could have determined the owner of the blood, he said.

Testing could have helped learn more about the crime, he said.

A test also wasn't done to find blood invisible to the naked eye, Gietzen said.

The test could have been used to find items such as bloody footprints on the floor or carpet, he said.

The victims weren’t under the influence of alcohol or drugs and never tried to escape or help one another, he said. They were awake during their murders because they had defensive wounds.

Under cross-examination, Gietzen said he never looked at evidence or went to the homicide scene.

He also said he came to opinions about the case without DNA testing on all blood samples, much like investigators.

The expert criticized investigators in his report for not testing pruning shears for DNA.

O’Leary pointed out the shears were tested, discrediting the expert's report. The shears, however, had no value as evidence.

Knowledge of crime

Prosecutors claim Koepp knew details about the murder scene only the killer could have known, but the defense called witnesses Monday to dispute that theory.

Christine Schultz, Danyetta’s co-worker at the Community Action Center, testified she and others stood outside the Lentz home after the murders were discovered.

She said people watched law enforcement investigate the scene.

Russell Lucht, Danyetta’s father who discovered the bodies, was upset and crying, Schultz said. Lucht was telling people what he had seen inside the home.

Defense attorneys claim Koepp’s knowledge of the crime scene stem from Lucht’s comments.

Koepp was arrested five days after the murders for leading police on a high-speed chase when he was supposed to be questioned about the homicides.

He is in prison serving a sentence for felony fleeing stemming from the chase.

The prosecution has rested its case, and defense attorneys will have a DNA expert testify today.

The trial is scheduled to continue at 9 a.m. today.

If convicted, Koepp faces three life sentences.

Last updated: 1:02 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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