The Ottumwa Courier

November 25, 2013

Attorneys argue bail reduction

By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer

---- — ALBIA — A decision not listed on the official docket was the first thing Judge Daniel Wilson wanted to know about during a hearing in the murder case of State v. Seth Techel.

Techel is accused of murdering his wife, Lisa Techel, and their unborn child.

"To my knowledge, the State has never declared [to this court] its intention to retry this case," Wilson said at the Monroe County Courthouse on Monday. "Mr. Prosser, does the State intend to retry this case?"

"It does, your honor," replied Andy Prosser, assistant attorney general, who has been acting as prosecutor for both previous trials. His co-council in the case, Scott Brown, is the director of area prosecution for the state Attorney General.

In Iowa, Brown told the Courier, the prosecutors do not need the judge's permission in order to try a defendant after there has been a mistrial. They can just move forward with the next trial.

But that raises some questions, said Techel's lawyer: How long can you keep someone locked up when no jury has convicted the defendant of a crime? Defense attorney Steven Gardner would like to see his client's bail reduced to something that would not just be affordable by a wealthy defendant.

He wants bail to be "reduced from $750,000 to $75,000," and further, that a bail bond company be allowed to assist in providing that capital. Right now, with the original bail being called "cash only," Techel would have to come up with the full $750,000. And how is he a threat? Before this case, insisted Gardner, Techel had no criminal record.

"The case has been tried twice … the State has been unable" to get a guilty verdict, Gardner said. "At what point does [keeping him] incarcerated violate his due process?"

There's no precedent for that, said Prosser, otherwise, judges would have to decide if the state has enough evidence to convict in front of a jury, then make a decision about bail. That's not how it works, Prosser said. The State only has to prove two things: If Techel is a flight risk and if he's a danger to the community.

"Certain family members are afraid of this man," said Prosser.

The judge asked if there was a specific occurrence that had caused the family to fear for their safety. Prosser said the family and the State believe Techel murdered a pregnant woman as she slept.

"How is Mr. Techel a flight risk?" asked Gardner. "He doesn't travel internationally, he has barely left Iowa and spent his life living in one county."

Prosser said the defendant is on trial for murder. And that if Mr Gardner wants to talk about the trials, then we should mention that the majority of the jurors in both trials found beyond a reasonable doubt that Techel committed murder. Someone who knows they narrowly avoided life imprisonment twice and is on trial again may "abscond" when given a chance, Prosser concluded.

The judge made no ruling on the request for bail reduction. Nor did he rule on whether Gardner could step away from the case due to health and economic concerns, of which health was the top worry, or even on who would replace Gardner and co-counsel Robert Box. It seemed to be a "done deal," however, that the trial will take place outside of Wapello County, without having to file a new motion for "change of venue." The question remains, however, where to hold the next trial.

Prosecutors said they want something far enough to be outside of heavy media coverage, but close enough not to overburden witnesses and family members on both sides of the case. Their suggestion: Iowa County, about 70 miles from Ottumwa.

Gardner said he liked the recommendations from the court, which would move the trial to Muscatine or Keokuk. Asked by the judge what he thought about Iowa County, Gardner replied, "I don't know anything about Iowa County."

Two of the media requests included a list of the jurors' names from the second trial, which neither attorney objected to, and a request by one media outlet for transcript evidence from the police interrogation of Seth Techel. Both sets of attorneys raised objections to that idea — at least while there is still a trial pending.

To follow reporter Mark Newman on Twitter, see @CourierMark