Appeals court denies Koepp appeal

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Friday, May 11, 2012

A state appeals court Thursday upheld James Koepp's three intentional homicide convictions, dismissing his contention that someone else murdered Danyetta Lentz and her two children in January 2007.

In rejecting Koepp's claim, the District 4 Court of Appeals concluded that the evidence that Rock County Judge Alan Bates withheld from jurors didn't deprive Koepp of a fair trial.

Lentz and her teenage children, Nicole and Scott, were found murdered in their Rock Township mobile home Jan. 11, 2007. They had been strangled and stabbed.

Koepp was charged with the three deaths exactly one year later.

At trial, the state theorized that Koepp killed Lentz to keep her from exposing their affair and killed the children because they witnessed their mother's murder.

Jurors convicted Koepp on all three counts Feb. 2, 2010, after an eight-day trial. On April 27, 2010, Bates sentenced Koepp to three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of supervised release.

On appeal, Koepp's attorney, Dianne Erickson, attacked Bates' rulings to withhold evidence, claiming it would have showed that another male was harassing Danyetta at the time of the killings. Erickson also argued that excluded testimony would have bolstered the impact on jurors of evidence that Bates did admitóDNA of another male besides Koepp that was found on two of the murder weapons.

An attorney who wants a jury to consider evidence blaming a person not on trial must show a "legitimate tendency" that the person could be guilty. For a "third party" defense to succeed, the attorney must show that the other person had motive and opportunity to commit the crime and that evidence directly connects the third person to the offense, according to the opinion.

In rejecting the other male as a murder suspect, the District 4 Court found that Erickson hadn't established motive that anyone else wanted to kill Danyetta. The harassment was verbal not violent; no offered testimony showed that Danyetta had an ongoing romantic relationship with a third party, and Erickson didn't identify or show that an ex-boyfriend of Danyetta had the opportunity to commit the crime, according to the opinion.

"In sum, we are satisfied that the circuit court properly exercised its discretion in ruling that the proffered evidence was not sufficientóand we conclude that the evidentiary ruling did not deprive Koepp of a fair trial," according to the unsigned seven-page opinion.

Department of Corrections records indicate that Koepp is serving his sentences at Waupun Correctional Institution.

Efforts to contact Erickson on Thursday for comment on the opinion were unsuccessful.

Last updated: 8:36 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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