Prosecution offers motive for triple homicide
WCLO's Steve Benton reports on Thursday's events at Rock County's triple homicide trial.
Koepp murder trial
JANESVILLE For the first time in the Janesville triple homicide trial, the prosecution offered a motive for the Lentz family slayings.
Kenneth Erdmann, James Koepp’s former cellmate, said Koepp admitted to killing Danyetta Lentz and her teenage children, Nicole and Scott, because he didn’t want his wife to know about his affair with Danyetta.
Erdmann testified Koepp's confessions came during private conversations while they were cellmates at Columbia Correctional Institution.
The defense attempted to discredit Erdmann’s claims.
Erdmann admitted he tried to get information from Koepp to offer it to the prosecution in exchange 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 called several witnesses in the fourth day of Koepp’s trial in Rock County Court, including Erdmann and others suggesting Koepp was guilty.
Koepp, 51, faces three charges of first-degree intentional homicide in the January 2007 killings.
The defense claims Koepp was in the Lentz home the night of the murders but left before the slayings.
Erdmann said Koepp told him the Lentz family was eating pizza before the murders.
“He told me that was amusing because that was going to be their last meal,” Erdmann said, later adding, "The impression that I got was he was bragging about it.”
Rock County sheriff’s detective Richard Kamholz, who searched the Lentz home, testified later in the day he found a receipt for a pizza Danyetta had purchased the night of the murders.
Erdmann, a Latin King gang member, is serving 25 years in prison for felony aggravated battery and felony first-degree reckless injury. He and Koepp often talked about Koepp’s case, Erdmann said.
Koepp told Erdmann he strangled the Lentzes from behind and stabbed them. He bragged about manhandling Danyetta, a 200-pound woman compared to Koepp’s 140-pound frame, Erdmann said.
Koepp told Erdmann the only evidence against him was the victims’ blood on his clothing, Erdmann said.
“He kept telling me he wants to get back with his wife if he beats this,” Erdmann said.
O'Leary never offered to help Erdmann in exchange for his testimony in Koepp's case, Erdmann said.
The inmate never received a reduced prison sentence or prison transfer.
Erdmann said he was risking his life by testifying because he could be labeled as a jailhouse snitch.
So, why testify against Koepp?
“I felt that the family needs closure, and if I was in that situation, I would love for somebody to come forward,” Erdmann said.
Todd Harrington, Koepp’s former cellmate and childhood friend, testified he also had conversations with Koepp about the case.
One particular conversation gave Harrington chills.
After asking Koepp why no one witnessed the murders, Koepp gave him a cold, long stare and said the witnesses were dead, Harrington said.
“It caught me entirely off guard,” he said.
The comment was made in an unusual tone that was unlike Koepp, Harrington said.
During cross-examination, Harrington said Koepp also denied committing the murders.
Sheriff's detective Warren Yoerger said a button of evidentiary value was found at the homicide scene.
Investigators, however, never discovered who owned the button, he said.
The button is significant because the defense claims an unknown robber killed the Lentz family.
The button was not linked to Koepp, Yoerger said.
Sheriff’s detective Richard Kamholz testified he spoke with Koepp at his home after the homicide. He said Koepp offered to give him clothes he wore the night of the murders.
The clothes had bloodstains, which were later linked to the victims’ DNA, prosecutors said.
Koepp denied being at the Lentz home the night of the homicides, but detectives didn’t believe him, they said.
Before the murders, Nicole had told her boyfriend on the phone that “Jim” was over, a detective said.
Sheriff’s detective Daria O’Connor said Koepp left a voicemail with his brother after the murders. She said Koepp was crying and saying he didn’t intend to hurt anyone.
Koepp was supposed to be interviewed a second time four days after the murders, but he didn’t show up.
Koepp called a detective, crying and saying, “I was stupid. I was stupid,” Kamholz said.
Koepp then fled when deputies tried to stop him in his vehicle, sheriff’s deputy Bryan Hanthorn said.
Koepp drove around a roadblock and down the wrong side of a highway, he said.
Stop sticks were used to flatten Koepp’s tires, and Koepp eventually stopped, Hanthorn said.
Phone call with police
During the chase, Koepp called his wife.
Janesville police officer Denise Stutika was at Koepp’s home. She answered Koepp’s wife’s phone.
A recording of the phone call was played in court.
Stutika told Koepp to stop his car. Koepp kept asking to talk to his wife, but the officer wouldn’t let him. Koepp wanted to tell his wife he loved her. He was distressed and worried.
Koepp also said he didn’t kill anyone, yet he was worried he would be charged anyway.
Koepp told the officer that investigators had hairs, fingerprints and his clothes.
“Everything is going against me,” Koepp said.
Later, a detective photographed small cuts on Koepp’s head, hands, wrists and lower legs, Kamholz said. He also had a softball-sized bruise on his left knee.
Koepp was arrested five days after the murders.
He is in prison serving a sentence for felony fleeing stemming from the chase.
Koepp’s two-week murder trial is scheduled to continue through next week.
If convicted, he faces three life sentences.