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Defense presents its case in Koepp trial

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Ted Sullivan
January 31, 2010
— In a trial, defense attorneys want to plant doubt in the minds of jurors, hoping they believe the defendant didn’t commit the crime.

James Koepp’s attorneys want jurors to believe an unknown robber killed Danyetta Lentz and her teenage children, Nicole and Scott, perhaps to steal prescription drugs.


Their theory began to play out in court Saturday, when witnesses began testifying about evidence they believe points to another killer.


Nancy Kunkel, Koepp’s ex-wife, said an unfamiliar black SUV was parked outside the Lentz family home when she returned from work at 1 a.m. the night of the murders.


“The reason that I noticed it was because it was parked in the middle of the road,” Kunkel said. “Nobody was in the car.”


Under cross-examination, Kunkel said other mobile homes were on both sides of the road where the black SUV was parked, suggesting the driver could have been visiting someone else.


Kunkel was one of several defense witnesses who testified Saturday in the sixth day of Koepp’s trial in Rock County Court.


Koepp, 51, faces three charges of first-degree intentional homicide in the January 2007 stabbings and strangulations of the Lentz family.


Defense attorneys claim Koepp was in the Lentz home the night of the murders but left before the slayings. They also claim Koepp was having an affair with Danyetta.


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


Knives and injuries

Kunkel, who divorced Koepp after the murders, winked at her ex-husband after sitting on the witness stand.


She said her ex-husband had knives, but no knives with a hilt, suggesting their grips were different than one of the murder weapons.


She also said Koepp had injured his head in the shed a day or two before the murders, indicating the injury wasn’t from the slayings.


Under cross-examination, Kunkel testified she told Koepp she would leave him if he ever cheated.


The statement played into the prosecution’s theory that Koepp would kill to hide his affair.


Testimony banned

Reba Wiehr, a 17-year-old former classmate of Scott’s, testified outside the presence of the jury.


The judge wanted to hear her testimony before deciding whether it would be allowed.


Wiehr and Scott were in a club together at Parker High School.


Before the murders, Scott talked about a man who had been bothering his mother, Wiehr said.


The man was his mother’s former boyfriend, she said.


He kept calling and would not leave Danyetta alone, Wiehr said. Danyetta asked her kids to answer the phone when he called.


The testimony might have helped the defense’s unknown assailant theory, but the jury never heard it.


Prosecutor Perry Folts argued Wiehr’s testimony was hearsay, unreliable and that she had no personal knowledge of Danyetta’s relationships.


Koepp’s attorney, Walter Isaacson, argued the testimony should be admitted because Scott can’t testify himself.


He said Scott’s comments came about the same time as the murders and help Koepp’s defense.


Judge Alan Bates wouldn’t allow the testimony, saying it wasn’t relevant because the unknown ex-boyfriend never threatened the family.


No noises heard

Shirley Kunkel, Koepp’s former mother-in-law, and Jennifer Himes, Koepp’s former stepson’s wife, were neighbors of the Lentzes and Koepp.


Kunkel said she usually could hear the Lentz family in their home, especially if the kids were running or arguing.


She said she never heard a scream or cry on the night of the murders.


She added she thought that was unusual.


“I didn’t hear anything,” Kunkel said. “I was really shocked.”


Under cross-examination, she said she was watching wrestling on TV and went to bed at 10 p.m.


Himes also said she never heard anything unusual.


Trial continues

Earlier, District Attorney David O’Leary finished calling witnesses, but he hasn’t rested his case.


He said he might have one witness testify next week, but the witness has medical problems and wasn’t available.


Court isn’t typically held Saturdays, but the judge didn’t want the Kenosha County jury to sit in a Janesville hotel all weekend without moving the trial forward.


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 trial is scheduled to continue at 9 a.m. Monday.


Testimony next week is expected to include the defense’s DNA expert and inmates in the Columbia Correctional Institution.


If convicted, Koepp faces three life sentences.



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