The Ottumwa Courier

November 8, 2013

Nine witnesses testify Friday in Techel trial

Courier staff writer

---- — MT. PLEASANT — Nine more witnesses were called to the stand by the defense council Friday in the Seth Techel murder trial, one of whom was questioned without the presence of the jury.

The last witness of the day, Michael Holcomb, a volunteer fire chief who was one of the first responders to the death of Brian Tate, was brought to the stand after Judge Daniel Wilson sent the jury home for the weekend.

Holcomb’s testimony was new evidence for the defense and therefore could not be heard by the jury until it was accepted by the judge.

On Sept. 30, 2012, Holcomb was called to the home of Tate, who was the neighbor of the Techels, for, “an unresponsive male … possibly deceased in the basement,” he stated.

Tate’s mother, Mary Lou Tate, told Holcomb on the scene that her son was having medicine adjusted at the time and doctors told him to start writing his thoughts down on paper. That is when Holcomb noticed several pieces of paper taped on walls and a hallway mirror with definitions for words like “compassion” and “hermit.”

Mary Lou Tate also told Holcomb about her son’s discharge from the Army because of his apparent schizophrenia and other mental health issues.

This testimony is very important to the defense case. Defense Attorney Steve Gardner is pointing to Tate as more of a probable suspect than Techel. Tate and Techel had several disputes, including over a deer hide that was found in a barrel at the Techel residence. Citing Tate’s mental instability when he was alive is a key piece to the defense case.

Chief Deputy Don Phillips of the Wapello County Sheriff’s Department continued his testimony from Thursday to begin the day. On May 30, 2012, four days after the death of Lisa Techel, Phillips interviewed Tate at his home, including in the basement where Tate was later found deceased.

In the interview, Tate made references to the Wapello County Sheriff’s office not taking the proper interest into vandalism accounts that he made. Prosecutor Andy Prosser played portions of the recording of the interview for jurors, in which Tate mentioned that officers were not looking into his case, and if they would have been, “none of this would have happened.”

Phillips, at the time of Tate’s comments, thought he was talking about the vandalism on his property, not the murder of Lisa Techel.

“He was explaining to me that if we would have been in the area more, the vandalism wouldn’t have occurred,” Phillips said.

Tate also showed Phillips his collection of guns, which were in a corner of his basement. According to Tate in the interview tape, he had several guns in his home, but none of them were loaded though there were rounds ready to be loaded.

Tate can be heard in the recording saying, “I keep them right there in the corner where I can bail out of bed and get right down here in case someone comes in and starts shooting at me.”

Allison Murtha, manager of forensics with RJ Lee Group, INC., was also brought to the stand. She has training in forensic science and gunshot residue examination and works on approximately 100 cases per year dealing with gunshot residue.

According to Murtha, anytime there is a chance that gunshot residue samples can be taken, they should be. Firearms expert Victor Murillo, who testified Thursday, said they did not carry out a gunshot residue test on scene and that his office does not regularly perform residue tests.

Jeremy Weller and Josh Stevens, two of the reserve officers who found the murder weapon just outside of the Techel home, were questioned by the defense about the weapon placement and their role at the crime scene on May 26 and 27, 2012.

At the scene, they both decided to search the immediate area beside the home while sheriff’s officers left to get an ATV that would better help them get around the property, and it is then that they found the shotgun by a tree marked with an "X."

“I heard him [Weller] say ‘shotgun,’” Stevens said.

“It was probably 5 or 6 feet from the tree … in some tall grass,” Weller said.

Weller was also questioned about his role in providing Phillips with 911 calls and radio traffic from the day of Lisa Techel’s death. Phillips sent an email to Weller on June 6, 2012, one day after Weller found a third audio recording. But Weller did not include the third recording in his report and only provided the first two. He later brought the third recording to the attention of both councils, in March 2013.

Others who testified on behalf of the defense were: Dr. Steven Quackenbush, pathologist who performed a drug screen on Techel; Mark Hagist, who investigated Lisa Techel’s body for the Wapello County Medical Examiner; Darwin Chapman, fingerprint analyzer from the state crime lab in Ankeny; and Justin Grodnitzky, criminalist from the state crime lab who took video and photos of the scene.

Court is not in session Monday due to Veterans Day, so the trial will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

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