Lawyers gear up for triple-murder trial

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010
— Lawyers for the prosecution and defense continue to jockey for advantage on the eve of the long-awaited trial of James C. Koepp.

Jury selection starts Monday in the trial to decide whether Koepp, 50, is the killer of Danyetta Lentz and her teenage children, Nicole and Scott. The three died violently in their home just south of Janesville in January 2007.

At a hearing Tuesday, it was clear the trial would include technical scientific information as well as testimony from criminals who have been incarcerated with Koepp.

The trial is set for Courtroom C, which Judge Alan Bates acknowledged has limited seating. Bates said he’s checking to see if it’s possible to have the trial shown on a screen outside the courtroom.

The courthouse’s large, older courtrooms aren’t set up to keep people safe from the convicts who will testify, Bates said after the hearing.

One battleground Tuesday was DNA evidence. Deputy District Attorney Perry Folts hoisted a stack of paper several inches thick, a printout of the defense DNA expert’s PowerPoint presentation.

The judge and prosecution had just received the PowerPoint in recent days and said they had not had time to review it.

Folts called it “a blatant, intentional attempt” to violate Judge Alan Bates’ earlier decision.

Bates had ruled that the expert could only testify about her original report, which was six or seven pages long, so the huge PowerPoint could violate that order, Folts argued.

Folts also complained that the defense had provided no protocols for the expert’s analysis of the DNA evidence. Folts said the prosecution has been asking for those protocols for two years.

Folts asked Bates to prohibit the defense expert from testifying.

Assistant Public Defender Walter Isaacson said his expert used state crime lab data and came to the same conclusions as the lab did.

Bates did not rule on the motion. He said that he would deal with it at trial. But he warned that he would not allow testimony that strayed from the expert’s original report.

Isaacson made a number of motions to suppress information at trial, including:

-- Evidence that a someone known only as “Officer Fran” had told a cellmate of Koepp’s that Koepp had killed three people and that the inmate, Leonard Cusic, should “keep his ears open.” Bates said he would deal with the issue if it arises at trial.

-- A statement allegedly made by Koepp when interviewed at the Rock County Jail on Jan. 17, 2007: “I think this is the part where I need a lawyer.” Bates agreed.

-- Evidence about Koepp refusing to take a polygraph test on Jan. 15, 2007. Bates agreed.

-- Evidence that Koepp was previously convicted of a sex offense. Bates agreed but said he might allow it if the defense introduces the question of how one person could control multiple persons with a knife, something that apparently occurred in the previous case.

-- Evidence that detectives had told Koepp that “we/I know you killed these people.” Bates denied the motion.

-- Evidence from a medical examiner’s report that states the victims died from “complex homicidal violence,” which Isaacson said could prejudice jurors.

District Attorney David O’Leary said the question of whether someone killed the victims is not an issue.

“These people were violently killed. This trial is about whether Mr. Koepp did it,” O’Leary said.

Bates agreed, denying the motion.

Koepp's two-week trial is scheduled to begin with jury selection Monday in Kenosha. The Racine County jurors will be sequestered in Janesville for the duration of the trial, which could last two weeks.

Koepp in June was granted a change of venue because the judge ruled that media exposure made it difficult for Koepp to get a fair trial from local jurors.

Koepp faces three life sentences if convicted on the three charges of first-degree intentional homicide.

Last updated: 12:37 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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