La Crosse County judge denies new trial for Koula

Eric Koula convicted in 2012 of killing his parents

A La Crosse County judge denied a new trial for a West Salem man convicted of killing his parents.

Eric Koula is currently serving two life sentences. A jury found him guilty of killing his father and mother, Dennis and Merna Koula. in the spring of 2010.

Eric Koula’s new defense team says his trial attorneys failed him. In November of last year they filed a motion for a new trial, saying the judge excluded evidence in the trial that should not have been excluded.

The new defense team also said the court messed up in the instructions the jury was given at the end of the trial.

“There is always an instruction about reasonable doubt, there’s always an instruction about credibility of witness,” said Cheryl Gill, a partner with Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC.

Those instructions are determined at a jury instruction conference between the judge, defense attorney and prosecutor.

“Typically there isn’t a lot of disagreement, everybody agrees a credibility instruction should be given,” said Gill. “But there are often times some instructions that one side wants to give and the other side doesn’t.”

That scenario happened at Koula’s trial. The court drafted an instruction, which Koula’s defense attorneys asked to change.

“If you object to a jury instruction, you must object to it on the record. You can’t just agree with an instruction and then later say, “Oh, I should have objected. They want you to object at the time the instructions are being discussed,” said Gill.

According to Horne’s report, “The defense requested the following alternative instruction which was given by the court.”

Koula’s current attorney argues the language change wasn’t enough but the Judge said even with another language change, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome.

“While other alternative language could also have been appropriate, the instruction allowed the defense in closing argument to stress evidence favorable to the theory of the case,” said Horne in the document.

Koula’s current attorney also argues Koula’s former attorneys were ineffective but Gill said that can be hard to prove and even if they could it doesn’t automatically mean a new trial.

“The court then asks did that ineffective assistance of council affect in any way the finding of guilt,” said Gill.

And in this case, Horne said Koula’s attorneys did their job.

“Counsel is strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment,” Horne wrote in his memorandum and order denying motion for post-conviction relief.

Horne denied the motion on Monday, stating Koula was represented “by a team of highly skilled and experienced defense counsel” and the defense was “thoroughly developed during the course of the trial which lasted more than three weeks.”

“From this court’s perspective, Eric Koula was convicted despite outstanding advocacy by a skilled defense team – the conviction resulted primarily from Eric Koula’s lies which, by the time of trial, were admitted and which the jury apparently concluded were substantial and designed to conceal his role in killing his parents,” Horne wrote in his memorandum and order denying motion for post-conviction relief.

Gill is not affiliated with Eric Koula’s trial in anyway but has a lot of experience in criminal court. She doesn’t suspect any additional rulings on this case for at least a year.

 Koula and his defense team could appeal Horne’s decision.

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