The Ottumwa Courier

November 1, 2013

Three witnesses take the stand in Techel trial

By JOSH VARDAMAN
Courier staff writer

---- — MT. PLEASANT — Day three of testimony in the first-degree murder trial of Seth Techel was filled with three witnesses, all called to the stand by the prosecution and then cross-examined by the defense.

The first, Drew Ballard, 22, of Eldon, had an intimate relationship with Rachel McFarland, 23, of Bloomfield, during the same time as Techel. McFarland and Ballard were, according to him, in a two-year relationship and lived together in Eldon when he found emails on their home computer from a man named Rick Jones.

The emails concerned Ballard, because, according to him, there were a lot of them, and the content concerned him as well. He told McFarland they needed to have a talk and did so in February 2012. Prosecutor Andy Prosser showed the emails as evidence.

After Ballard stepped down, Prosser called his next witness, Colton Millard, 22, of Agency. Millard and Techel had been friends since kindergarten, and he had also known Lisa Techel very well before her death. According to Millard, he would go to the Techel residence very often, even as much as three or four times a week, and he did not have a closer friend at the time than Techel.

The two spent a lot of time hunting and fishing and were both very familiar with guns. Their parents taught them at a young age how to use them safely, and Millard acknowledged that there were several guns present at all times at the Techel residence, including Lisa Techel’s handgun.

Millard was a frequent visitor at the Techel home, whether they were present or not. He kept his blue tick hound dog, Duke, in a shed at the residence and spent a lot of time there shooting guns, playing Xbox and watching television.

According to Millard, he was aware of the relationship between Techel and McFarland and of the second phone Techel used to converse with her. Techel told him the phone was for business and showed Millard a picture of McFarland with her shirt off at one point.

Millard and Techel had to do repair work to the shed where Duke was kept, and that is when Millard confronted him about McFarland. They had a conversation about Millard’s feelings about the Techel and McFarland relationship and how he did not approve.

“I told him that he was stupid and he needed to stop,” Millard said. “He knew it was stupid. He shook his head, like ‘I know.’”

He also was asked by defense attorney Steve Gardner whether or not Techel ever talked about the baby the Techels were expecting. According to Millard, Techel seemed excited about the baby, even when he was told it would be a girl.

“He didn’t care what it was; he just wanted it to be healthy,” Millard said.

Gardner asked Millard whether or not Techel seemed upset when he was told the baby would be a girl, to which Millard stated, “He was kind of disappointed; he wanted a boy, but he was still happy.”

On the day of Lisa Techel’s death, Millard was on a fishing trip and had asked Techel to take care of his dog while he was gone. Techel never replied to Millard’s text, but he left the dog with them since that’s where it was kept. When he got the call about the death, he went to the home to get the dog and was met by officers who were already on the scene.

The last witness of the day, Michael Halverson, was called just before the court recessed for lunch. Halverson, who works for the Iowa DCI Criminalists Laboratory in Ankeny, was the lead criminalist on the scene on May 26 and 27, 2012, and was responsible for documenting and photographing anything found at the scene.

According to the notes that he took during May 26, he got a call about the case at 7:27 a.m., and after reporting to the DCI Crime Lab, he drove in the specialized crime scene truck to Wapello County, arriving at the Sheriff’s Department at approximately 10:30 a.m. At the Sheriff’s Department, he was briefed on the case and went to the crime scene, arriving at approximately 11:54 a.m. At the scene, he met with officers, did a preliminary walkthrough of the scene and started documenting and taking photos.

Prosser went through many of the photos that Halverson took of the scene on the day of Lisa Techel’s death, including the fingerprints that were found on the front door of the home, the bedroom where she laid deceased and the grassy area where the murder weapon was found.

Once the picture of the gun was brought in front of the court, Prosser brought out the murder weapon as his next piece of evidence. Halverson agreed that it was the gun found at the scene, and at the time when it was found it had four unused slugs in the magazine and one spent shell inside of the chamber.

After Prosser went over more photos with Halverson, such as fingerprints that were found on glass panels of the front door, Gardner cross-examined.

He focused on Halverson’s notes that he took on May 26 and 27, 2012. Written in Halverson’s notes was a mentioning about Techel’s neighbor, Brian Tate. According to his notes, Tate’s name was written with an equals sign, then Vietnam vet and mentioned that Tate had “PTSD issues.”

Techel and Tate had several disputes while being neighbors, and Halverson noted that they were “fighting over several things, including a deer hide.” A deer hide was found in a trash barrel just outside of the Techel home, though it was not said if that was the same hide.

Gardner also asked whether at some point after the documentation, did Halverson notice the digital clock on the camera was incorrect? Halverson stated that he had noticed and that it was given to the photography experts at the Crime Lab.

After discussing the incorrect time setting on the digital camera, Gardner briefly mentioned the video that was taken by Halverson’s assistant during the documentation. Halverson stated he had never seen the video, and after a brief meeting by both councils, Judge Daniel Wilson adjourned the court, citing reasons unrelated to the case.

The trial will continue on Monday with more cross-examination of Halverson by Gardner.

— To see reporter Josh Vardaman's Twitter feed, go to @CourierJosh