The man convicted of killing Paul and A.J. Petras in their downtown La Crosse photo shop on September 15, 2012, has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole Tuesday morning in La Crosse County Court.
Judge Ramona Gonzalez made the decision to withhold the chance of parole for Jeffrey Lepsch.
“I think you have demonstrated that you are a danger to society, that you have no qualms about lying to the people you love, and that you have no qualms about taking a life for something so small,” Gonzalez said to Lepsch.
Lepsch killed Paul and A.J. Petras in May's Photo and then stole $17,000 worth of camera equipment last year. A jury found Lepsch guilty on July 30 of two counts of first-degree intentional homicide, armed robbery and possession of a firearm as a felon.
Both homicide convictions carry with them mandatory life sentences. Tuesday, Gonzalez ruled Lepsch would serve those sentences consecutively without parole after hearing one last time from Paul Petras’s wife, Sherry.
“He shouldn’t have taken our family away from us,” Sherry Petras told the courtroom. “I do not want him to have any chance for parole.”
Lepsch was also sentenced to 25 years initial confinement and 15 years extended supervision for the Class C felony of armed robbery with use of force. Lepsch was sentenced to 5 years initial confinement and 15 years extended supervision for Class G felony of felon possess firearm.
Gonzalez said Lepsch "did a really good job of lying" to his mother and wife. "To say [the killings] were cold-blooded in my mind is an understatement," Judge Gonzalez said. "Within a breath of committing the crimes, he continues to live his life as though nothing has changed."
Before the formal sentencing, Gonzalez read several letters on behalf of the Petras family and members of the community who have been affected by the death of Paul and A.J. Petras and the Lepsch trial.
One letter written by A.J.’s girlfriend, Alycia, read, "The pain this crime caused me is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. A.J. was the most generous and caring person I’ve ever known, and it kills me that I’ll never get to tell him I love him.”
Another letter read, “It feels like photography has died in La Crosse since these murders.”
Allison Petras, Paul's daughter and A.J.’s sister, wrote, "Honestly, words cannot begin to explain what this tragedy has put me and my family through. Every day is a struggle."
Allison continued, "I will never have a father-daughter dance, or a dad to walk me down the aisle at my wedding." She wrote family was number one to her and they had a small one to begin with. "I would give anything to have them both back."
Judge Gonzalez said she "shed many tears" while reading letters during her consideration for the Lepsch sentencing.
Lepsch's defense attorney Vincent Rust said he will likely appeal the sentencing decision.
"This is a horrible tragedy for the Petras family. My client understands that. This is also a horrible tragedy for my client's family,” Rust said.
District Attorney Tim Gruenke said the Petras family was satisfied with Tuesday’s outcome, but would struggle with the loss of their loved ones for years to come.
“I’m not sure if there ever is closure,” Gruenke said. “I think the sadness goes on. They’re glad they got this part done, but they’ll go on missing their family.”