Police say still a long ways to go in Petras case

Published On: Oct 12 2012 06:46:55 PM CDT   Updated On: Oct 12 2012 08:10:25 PM CDT
LA CROSSE, Wis. -

Even with an arrest in the murders of a downtown La Crosse business owner and his son, police say they're only one-fourth of the way to completing the case.

The next step for police is to build as strong of a case as possible for the District Attorney's Office to take to court.

Part of that has to do with evidence, but determining what's evidence and what's not is actually not as easy as it sounds.

It's a break in the case that is starting to give the La Crosse community a little piece of mind.

“It's nice to see they're kind of figuring out what's going on,” said Matt Brown, kitchen manager of Fat Sam’s Bistro in La Crosse.

Brown was working the day Paul Petras and his son A.J., were found shot to death across the street in their family business, May's Photo.

On Wednesday, police arrested Jeffrey Lepsch near his Dakota Minn., home in connection with the murders.

But while the arrest was a big step forward, Capt. Jason Melby said there's still a lot of work to be done before this case reaches the courtroom.

“So you ask what we have to do, we have to tie down some of the stuff that we brought in that we believe is evidence,” said Melby.

The day of Lepsch's arrest, investigators came back to the station to not only unload their equipment but hundreds of pieces of evidence they took from Lepsch's home. Police said they're still searching for more evidence.

La Crosse District Attorney Tim Gruenke also said they also have to look into Lepsch's background -- any prior convictions, family, friends and neighbors.

“Well, in any particular case, there might be aspects of person's background that might become important,” said Gruenke. “Other times it isn't, and really until you get into a trial, you really don't know what a judge might let in as evidence, what we might want to present to the jury [or] what the defense might want to present to a jury.”

Then there's all of the surveillance video collected from downtown businesses.

“Surveillance video is very important,” said Gruenke. “It is hard to shake the credibility. It's not like an eyewitnesss, it is what it is. Video is not going to lie [and] as long as you can preserve it and view it, then the surveillance video is very important.”

Grenke said it's still very early in the case, and that means anything can be important.

“People can disagree about what's important to them or not, and it’s too early to say what piece of evidence might the jury or the judge or a prosecutor feels is important,” said Gruenke. “It's still early in the process.”

Police also haven't found the weapon used in the murders. Although, Gruenke said he’s not sure how critical that will be to the case.

“You have to look at all the evidence in the case, and sometimes it might be critical and other times, like in recent trials, we did not have a murder weapon, and the jury still convicted,” said Gruenke. “So sometimes it’s very important, and sometimes it’s not important at all in the case.”

While the evidence is being processed, officials are still working on transferring Lepsch to Wisconsin.

Right now, he's being held at the Winona County Jail. His next extradition hearing is next Thursday.

If he requests a formal extradition, it could take 2-3 months before being transferred to La Crosse.