The trial began Wednesday morning for the man accused of shooting and killing Paul Petras and his son A.J. in their downtown La Crosse photo shop on September 15, 2012.
Jeffrey Lepsch has been charged with two counts of first-degree homicide, armed robbery and possession of a firearm. He has pleaded not guilty in the case and faces life in prison if convicted.
During his opening statements, La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke began by showing four photos. The first was a picture of A.J. found shot dead; the second was of Paul dead; the third was a camera case at May's Photo; and the fourth photo was Lepsch’s basement, which Gruenke said shows camera equipment that matches the serial numbers from the equipment missing from May’s Photo.
The prosecution is arguing Lepsch killed Paul and A.J. Petras for financial gain. Gruenke said investigators discovered Lepsch was living pay check to pay check and was late on a mortgage payment. He also owed more than $52,000 from a prior theft conviction.
To further the case, the prosecution said investigators found 27 camera items worth more than $17,000 at Lepsch's home that matched the serial numbers of the ones missing from May's photo.
Investigators said Lepsch was selling the equipment less than a month after the murders. A woman came forward after hearing about Lepsch on the news. She said she bought camera equipment from him after seeing his post on Craig's list.
"She says she met a person in Winona who called himself Jeff and the camera was missing the serial number on the bottom. When she asked him why the serial number was missing, he said he had a problem with the tripod screw and had to remove the serial number from the camera. Police were still able to verify the serial number of the camera from looking at the internal data of the camera and the serial number matches the camera taken from May's Photo," said Gruenke.
Gruenke asked that the jury finds Lepsch guilty of all four counts against him.
Addressing the jury, defense attorney Vincent Rust said, "You’ll see evidence that Jeff is a family man and not a killer." The defense said in the case, the jury will hear from Lepsch’s wife, what Lepsch was doing leading up to Sept. 15 and how he was acting afterward.
The defense points out that several people pointed out that they saw a man with dark hair. Lepsch has light hair.
The prosecution points to snapshots of surveillance video showing a man in a hooded sweatshirt and wearing a backpack go into May's Photo and coming out a while later carrying four bags.
Steven Smith was in town visiting his daughter.
He said was in May's Photo and left right around closing time that day.
Smith said while he was in the store, he noticed someone matching the description seen on surveillance video.
Smith said he didn't see the person's face, but thought it was odd the person was wearing a gray-hooded sweatshirt with long pants on a warm day.
He said this person was talking to clerk about some of the camera equipment.
"There was a letter and a number," said Smith. "The person asked, 'Do you have a' whatever. The clerk, I think, responded that they had one, but it was already spoken for, but the customer could take a look at it."
The day of the murders, there was also a photography class going on at May's Photo.
Some of the students in that class also testified saying they saw this gray-hooded sweatshirt person, but no one seemed to get a good look at the person's face.
So far, the only person to testify who was close to getting a look was the class's instructor and May's Photo employee, Robert Metcafe.
"Now when you say the hood up, I'm assuming pulled up over the person's head?" Gruenke asked Metcafe.
"Correct," Metcafe replied.
"Did you see the person's face?" Gruenke asked.
"I did not," Metcafe replied. "I kind of saw the side of his face enough to see that it was a white person. Beyond that, at that point, I walked behind him. He was facing the opposite direction, so I did not see him."