The state and defense rested their case on Monday morning in the trial of Jeffrey Lepsch, the Minnesota man accused killing Paul and A.J. Petras in May’s Photo on September 15, 2012.
He is also accused of stealing about $17,000 worth of camera equipment.
The state wrapped up before the morning court break. The defense only called two witnesses to the stand, Jeff Lepsch's wife Angie and his mother Sharon.
Angie Lepsch testified that her husband of 18 years is very loving, affectionate and "tried really hard to be a good husband." Angie said. Jeff was an excellent father who was very involved. Jeff was not a violent person and he didn't have any periods of rage or anger, Angie testified. They did not keep guns in the house and they never talked about owning or getting a gun, she said.
Angie testified that they were having financial troubles, struggling from month-to-month. She and Jeff constantly talked about how they were going to overcome this.
"The bond with the kids and each other is so strong. We both have the commitment to want to move forward," she said.
September 15, 2012 was Applefest weekend in La Crescent. Angie said she was going to bring her kids to the festival, but Jeff couldn't go because of a bad back. When they got back to Jeff's parents' house, at around 5 p.m., Angie said Jeff did not appear any different. He appeared the "same as he always did."
Angie also testified that she knew Jeff was in trouble for stealing items about ten years ago. But Angie said she did not know Jeff had stolen the items in that case until he was arrested.
Jeff's mother Sharon took the stand next. She said Jeff never owned any guns and never caused her to be afraid.
Sharon testified that she knew Jeff and Angie were having financial problems. Sharon had loaned them money. She was asked if there was any amount that was just too much to loan.
"If I had it, I would give it to him," Sharon said.
Sharon testified that on September 15, 2012, Jeff did not join the family for Applefest.
"It was my understanding that he was going to come later to the house," Sharon said.
When Jeff came home, around 5 p.m., Sharon said she did not notice any unusual behavior from him.
The defense rested after Sharon was excused.
Earlier in the morning, La Crosse police Sergeant Mike Blokhuis, who looked at Lepsch's computer search history, continued his testimony from Friday. He testified that Lepsch did not search for May's Photo, guns or Petras.
Sgt. Blokhuis said there was no evidence that Lepsch bought large amounts of camera gear online. Sgt. Blokhuis was also asked about video surveillance from State Bank. Sgt. Blokhuis said from the video, he was unable to see the person's face or distinguish the person's race. Since the video was in black-and-white, Sgt. Blokhuis said it was difficult to determine the color of the clothing the person was wearing.
Scott Faralli, an analyst with the State Department of Justice, analyzed the cell phone activity of Paul and A.J. Petra' phones. Verizon provided Faralli with data on calls because it was the cell phone carrier for Paul and A.J. Petras. Faralli testified that no calls were made after 3 p.m. from Paul or AJ's phone. They did receive calls on the afternoon of September 15, 2012. There was no cell phone activity after 3:45 p.m.
Julie Paulson took the stand next. She testified that she bought a camera on Craigslist from Jeff Lepsch. She initially communicated with him via text. She read a text to the jury. She asked Jeff why he was selling the camera. He told Paulson that he switched to Nikon and thought he would sell his Cannon gear to help pay for the Nikon equipment.
Paulson said she bought the camera on October 9, 2012. She and Jeff Lepsch had talked about a repair to the tripod holder, which is located where the serial number should have been. She testified that she didn’t really notice that the serial number was missing; just that it was intact.
On October 11, she saw a TV report with Jeff’s picture. "That was the man I bought my camera from," Paulson said. She contacted police and turned the camera over.
La Croses police investigator Tony DeLap interviewed Paulson after she turned the camera over. DeLap said the serial number was missing. He used a clean formatted SD card, took a picture and uploaded it to a website. The file noted the serial number of the camera that took the picture.
La Crosse police detective Lieutenant Matt Malott reviewed Jeff and Angie’s bank records. They had $60,000 left in mortgage payments. Lt. Malott also looked at a business account for Jeff’s Photography. The account was opened on June 29, 2012 and was closed on October 26, 2012. Lt. Malott testified there was a $1.79 balance in September 2012 and by October there was negative $118.04.
Reviewing Lepsch's bank accounts, Lt. Malott testified that Lepsch would not have enough money to buy $17,000 worth of camera equipment, or even $2,000 worth of equipment.