Wisconsin News

Wife and mother of victims gives emotional testimony

LA CROSSE, Wis. - The jury in the trial of Jeffrey Lepsch, the man accused of killing Paul Petras and his son A.J. in their downtown La Crosse family business last September, heard first-hand what happened the day of the murders from the wife and mother of the victims, Sherri Petras.

Petras was the first person to take the stand in this case.

Petras would always count on her husband and son to come home for dinner. Sept. 15, 2012, was no different.

"They had a class that day -- they taught photography classes, so the class goes until 2 o'clock usually, and I expected them home afterwards, probably normally by three-ish," she said.

But when it became late, she called their cellphones to check up on them. Neither answered.

"Were they the type of people to answer the phones?" La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Guenke asked her. "(They would) always answer the phones," she said."We had a thing about 'answer the phones.' I mean, if we didn't answer the phone, we thought something was up."

She decided to make a trip to May's Photo. She said it looked like Paul and A.J. were still inside.

"Normally, when they'd leave, they'd turn the lights off and lock the doors, and the doors were open and the lights were on," she said.

She said she called out their names, but neither answered. So she made her way to the back of the store.

"There's like a little half wall, so you can't see what's really behind it," she said. "I could just see the cash register and stuff, so I walked around the corner and saw A.J. laying on the floor. He was kind of on his side. He was kind of on his side like rolled over a little bit. I talked to him and tried to see if I could move him and I couldn't, so I was trying to call 911. I think I was too nervous, I couldn't get the phone call to go through."

Next, she said she ran outside yelling for help and for someone to call 911.

"A guy came in there," she said. "He had a suit, or a shirt and tie on, and he told me to leave and he would do CPR, and I think he tried to do CPR, but I was waiting out in the other room, and I didn't know where Paul was. I didn't see Paul, and then the ambulance and stuff came."

This was the end of her testimony. The defense didn't have any questions for her.

The medical examiner also testified Wednesday, confirming the cause of death as gunshots to the head.

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