Wisconsin News

Jury finds Jeffrey Lepsch guilty of May's Photo murders

LA CROSSE, WI - The jury has found Jeffrey Lepsch guilty of two counts of first-degree intentional homicide, armed robbery, and possession of a firearm as a felon.

Lepsch was convicted of killing Paul and A.J. Petras in May's Photo on September 15, 2012, and stealing $17,000 worth of camera equipment.

The jury reached their verdict at about 2:40 p.m., in about four hours. It was read in La Crosse County Court at about 3:10 p.m.

Because Lepsch was convicted of a Class A felony, he will receive mandatory life in prison. A judge will decide whether he will have the possibility of parole.

Lepsch's sentencing hearing has been scheduled for September 6 at 8:30 a.m.



At about 1 p.m., the jury in the Jeffrey Lepsch trial had a question and wanted to see the transcript of the interview police had with Lepsch.

The defense did not want the jury to have the transcript. La Crosse County Judge Ramona Gonzalez brought the jury back in the court room to watch the video of the interview. 

The video was originally shown on Thursday, July 25. It shows special Agent Vern Vandeberg with the Wisconsin Department of Justice Major Crimes Bureau talking with Lepsch about camera equipment that was stolen.

When the jury was done watching the video, they asked for still photos from surveillance video.

PREVIOUS STORY (From Tuesday morning court session):

A jury of five women and seven men began deliberating the Jeffrey Lepsch case Tuesday at about 10:45 a.m.

Lepsch is accused of killing Paul and A.J. Petras in their downtown La Crosse photo shop on September 15, 2012 and stealing about $17,000 worth of camera equipment.

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.

La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke said Paul and A.J. Petras' death "was not an accident. It was not negligent. It was not an act of self-defense." Gruenke said it was planned-out, thought-out, premeditated and cold-blooded.

Addressing the jury, Gruenke said with Lepsch's financial stress comes emotion, shame, embarrassment, feeling of inadequacy not being able to provide for family, fear.

"In his mind, the irrational became a rational choice," Gruenke said.


Gruenke also pointed out to the jury during his closing arguments that Lepsch's wife and mother did not know he had stolen items. He was able to hide his emotions and his camera equipment, Gruenke said.

"He is a man of secrets. He is a man that has a dark side," Gruenke said.

Lepsch is a cold-blooded killer, Gruenke said. "The only reason Paul and A.J. Petras were killed was to silence them. They were in the way of the camera equipment."

During his closing arguments, defense attorney Thomas Huh said when he first heard this case, "I probably had the same reaction as many of you: 'Boy, this looks bad.'"

"There's not as much substance as your initial reaction to the case. It's a mirage," Huh said.

Huh said the surveillance video that was shown was poor quality, almost blurry, and two officers testified that they could not determine the race or see a face of the person in the video.

Huh said one thing the defense didn't dispute is that Lepsch had the stolen property. But he is not a murderer, Huh told the jury.

Lepsch's DNA was not found on the safe at May's Photo, or on Paul or A.J. Petras. Huh said there should have been excessive amounts of sweat and DNA if Lepsch was wearing a sweatshirt on a hot day. Lepsch's van did not have any DNA from Paul or A.J., nor guns or phones.

"I find it hard to believe that the person who did do these murders would be able to keep that from seeping out," Huh said.

Huh emphasized that Lepsch is a family man and a convicted thief, but he's never shown any propensity for violence.

"While Lepsch is guilty of being in possession of stolen property, he did not kill anyone," Huh said.

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