Koepp found guilty of three murder charges
Koepp murder trial
WCLO's Beth Wheelock reports on the murder conviction of 51-year-old James Koepp of Janesville.
JANESVILLE Russell Lucht cried, trembled and bowed his head Tuesday after the guilty verdicts were read in the Rock County courtroom.
Three years earlier, Lucht had found his daughter and grandchildren murdered in their home. Blood was everywhere. He ran for help.
On Tuesday, Lucht watched jurors convict James Koepp, 51, on three counts of first-degree intentional homicide.
Twelve jurors took 90 minutes to decide Koepp stabbed and strangled Danyetta Lentz and her teenage children, Nicole and Scott.
For Lucht, the verdict couldn’t have come soon enough.
“It’s been a long three years,” he said, thanking prosecutors and investigators for their hard work.
“It’s been hard,” he said.
District Attorney David O’Leary said he was confident in the facts and evidence in the case.
“I’m just grateful that the jury agreed with us,” he said. “I’m relieved.”
He said his thoughts are with the victims’ family.
“I’m grateful for the family,” he said. “My prayers are with the family."
Sheriff Bob Spoden pumped his fist when the verdict was read.
“I am pleased that justice was done,” he said. “At the end of the day, we have to remember that three innocent people lost their lives.”
Koepp showed no visible reaction when the verdict was read. His attorneys left the courtroom without speaking.
Jurors declined to comment.
After the verdict was read, Koepp had his bond revoked.
He will be sentenced to three life sentences at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 27. Attorneys will argue whether he should be eligible for parole.
DNA evidence was key to the trial, O’Leary said.
In his closing arguments, O’Leary and Deputy District Attorney Perry Folts said the victims’ blood was on the jeans and shirt Koepp wore the night of the murders.
A bloody tie used to strangle the victims had Koepp’s DNA on it, O’Leary said.
Nicole’s and Danyetta’s fingernails had Koepp’s DNA underneath them, probably from clawing and scratching their murderer, he said.
Koepp’s DNA also was found in blood on the showerhead and body scrubber in the Lentz home, O’Leary said.
In his closing arguments, Assistant Public Defender Walter Isaacson said unknown male DNA was found on the handle of a knife at the crime scene.
Two samples of unknown male DNA were found on material used to strangle Danyetta, he said.
Koepp’s DNA also was on the tie because Koepp gave it to Scott.
A blood sample on Koepp’s jeans also was too small to use as evidence, he said.
Prosecutors argued Koepp killed the Lentz family to prevent his wife from finding out about his affair with Danyetta and divorcing him.
Defense attorneys argued an unknown robber killed the Lentz family in an attempt to get money or prescription drugs.
O’Leary said the unknown robber theory isn’t believable because the Lentz family was poor. Danyetta gave plasma for money and had no money in her bank account.
Gift cards, bank cards and cash in Danyetta’s pocket also were left at the scene, he said.
No one wanted to steal pills, either, because prescription drugs were left behind, O’Leary said.
The murder scene was staged to look like a robbery, he said.
Defense attorneys said an unknown robber might have done the murders because no money was found in the home.
A video-game system was missing, Isaacson said.
An unknown black SUV was parked outside the Lentz home at 1 a.m. on the night of the murders, he said.
Someone also had turned on lights in the Lentz home after the prosecutor claims the murders occurred, Isaacson said.
Lying to investigators
Koepp initially lied to investigators about being in the Lentz home that night, O’Leary said.
He later admitted to being there, he said.
Koepp also lied to detectives about knowing the Lentzes then admitted having an affair with Danyetta, O’Leary said.
Koepp also led police on a high-speed chase when he was supposed to be questioned about the murders, he said.
He told a police officer everything was going against him, saying “Oh c’mon, I gave you my … pants,” O’Leary said
His actions showed a “consciousness of guilt,” he said.
Isaacson said Koepp lied to detectives because he was embarrassed about his affair. He didn’t want his wife to find out.
He was under stress and emotional, he said.
Koepp also had no reason to kill Danyetta over the affair because he didn’t fear Danyetta telling his wife, Isaacson said.
The affair included one sexual encounter months earlier, he said.
On the night of the killings, Nicole told her boyfriend on the phone that “Jim” was in her home. Nicole’s boyfriend tried to call Nicole again at 9:30 p.m., but no one answered, the prosecutor said.
After the murders, Koepp called his brother, crying and upset, saying he did something stupid and didn’t mean to hurt anyone, O’Leary said.
Koepp also called a former employer and said he was worried about his fingerprints being at the homicide scene, he said.
Koepp had injuries on his body from the victims fighting him, O’Leary said.
Koepp’s injuries, however, could have come from deputies taking him down when he was arrested, defense attorneys said.
Koepp’s attorneys also posed several questions:
How could Koepp kill all three victims without the victims helping one another or trying to escape?
Why would Koepp kill Danyetta when her kids were home?
Why would the killer stab and strangle the victims at the same time?
Was there a second killer?
“It doesn’t make sense,” Isaacson said.
'Find him guilty'
O’Leary showed the jury pictures of the victims during his closing arguments.
Danyetta was a 38-year-old daycare teacher. Her children were students at Parker High School.
“Danyetta fought for her life and fought for the life of her children,” O’Leary said. “There was a battle, Danyetta put it up.”
He then said Koepp, a neighbor, was the killer.
“He murdered Danyetta, he murdered Scott and he murdered Nicole,” O’Leary said. “I’m asking you to find him guilty.”
The defense said the prosecution’s case had reasonable doubt.
“The verdict should support the facts, and I believe the facts in this case support a verdict of not guilty,” Isaacson said.
Koepp was convicted in 1983 of sexually assaulting two women. He is a registered sex offender.
Koepp was arrested five days after the murders when he fled police. He is in prison serving a sentence for felony fleeing for the chase.