The Ottumwa Courier

November 1, 2013

Attorneys face off over key testimony

Courier staff writer

---- — MT. PLEASANT — The defense and the prosecution argued about whether a young woman was a relevant witness in the murder trial of Seth Techel, accused of killing his wife and unborn child.

Rachel McFarland, 23 of Bloomfield, gave what both defense Steve Gardner and prosecutor Andy Prosser acknowledged was difficult testimony concerning details of her love life. And at no point did either side question her honesty in court.

But Gardner asked if at some points, she would agree she had a lot of suitors, young men interested in her attention, and whom she flirted with. It's true, she confirmed, and Seth Techel was one of those young men.

But, questioned Gardner emphatically, that doesn't mean she was having affairs, did it? No, she said, at least not with the married Seth Techel. They did kiss and fondle one another, though it was with clothing on, in public though quiet areas. Touching, she said, stayed outside of the clothing, though it was intimate. McFarland said female parts were touched through the shirt only, and male parts were touched from outside the pants during all the kissing. At one point, the kissing and touching went on for up to half an hour, McFarland acknowledged.

She told Prosser that yes, she did know Seth Techel was married. And she did feel bad about that. In fact, at some points, she told Techel he should try to work things out with Lisa and stay with her, at least until the baby arrived. But McFarland felt she loved him, and he loved her. There were times she'd try to end the relationship, but the two would soon be texting, or Facebooking or emailing flirtatious and romantic messages again. She says Techel told her he would divorce his wife Lisa to be with her. Prosser asked about the days leading up to the shooting of Lisa Caldwell Techel.

Techel communicated with McFarland on the separate TracPhone prosecutors say he bought to hide his affair. The two young people also spoke on occasion at the workplace, Job Corps Ottumwa, where she assisted with administrative tasks and he worked security. She says he told her to wish him luck, which she felt meant he was going to tell Lisa he was leaving her. Later, he claimed to have told her he wanted to leave, further claiming that she was upset but agreed to pack and move out.

The next day, said Prosser, Lisa Techel was dead.

Wait a moment, challenged Gardner, appearing to be incredulous. A non-sexual affair, asked Gardner, with a woman who had already said she wasn't going to move in together with Techel even if he got a divorce? A woman who Techel knew was expressing interest in another man, whom she is now having a baby with, a woman he'd met with outside of work perhaps five times in their lives, and even that in public, during daylight hours? THAT's the relationship prosecutors want us to believe my client would kill over?

In fact, Gardner went on, why even bring Ms. McFarland into court? Bringing her into the trial must just be a way to show that there was a relationship between Seth Techel and Rachel McFarland, when in truth, she had no direct knowledge of any shooting. McFarland agreed with that.

Earlier in the day, Prosser and Gardner were able to speak with the first deputy on the scene on the day Lisa Techel was killed.

However, Prosser's co-prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown objected to Steve Gardner’s questions because they would violate the “hearsay rule.” Gardner seemed to want a witness, one of the deputies, to say in court what someone else had said in the past. Gardner asked if a "Mr. Tate" told him this or that.

But Brown most strongly reacted to Gardner, in a sense, telling the story he wanted the jury to hear. Brown repeatedly objected to what he called improper questions. For example, Gardner would say, “Did Mr. Tate tell you he was on guard duty at that time?” So in that case, Brown implied to the judge, the defense is telling the jury that Tate, a neighbor, may have been on guard duty, believed he was on guard duty, worked as a guard or may have, at some point, conducted some form of “guard duty.”

Brown and the judge said it was acceptable to say to the witness, “What did Mr. Tate tell you?” or “Did Mr. Tate tell you what he was doing at that time?”

After the judge, the defense and the prosecution spoke, Gardner changed course, asking about fingerprints.

The evidence on Thursday morning included video from Deputy Marty Wonderlin’s patrol car on the morning Lisa Caldwell Techel was shot. Seth Techel could be heard sobbing on and off through the tape.

After he heard a loud bang, he told the deputy, he jumps out of the shower, he said, grabs his handgun and runs down the hallway. Techel sobbed in the video that “I was going to kill whoever did this.”

Next on the video, a family member, one of the Caldwells, went into the house, then, a moment later, can be heard screaming. At another point, Seth, crying, sobbing, pauses and asks Wonderlin, "Can you call my work?"

Wonderlin declines and tells him, gently, that is not the priority right now.

The evidence shown in court Thursday revealed law enforcement officers grabbing heavier weapons from their cars. They then searched the property, looking for a potential assailant. As they searched, their patrol car video picked up their microphones a bit.

Gardner: “On the video, we hear someone say, ‘Crazy nut job.' Was that you or the other deputy that said that?”

Wonderlin: “I don't recall who said that.”

The trial is scheduled to continue today.

To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark


Tweets by @CourierJosh