The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

February 25, 2013

Trial turns to motive

OTTUMWA — Records of phone calls to a love interest became the most important evidence Monday in the trial of Seth Techel, accused of killing his pregnant wife, Lisa.

Prosecutors used phone records in the morning to show how frequently Techel and the woman he was interested in, co-worker Rachel McFarland, communicated.

McFarland, 22, of Bloomfield, took the stand Monday afternoon. She met Techel at Job Corps in November, 2011, where they worked. The messages they sent each other on Facebook started off innocently. By December, she said, the messages were becoming flirtatious.

“In one direction or both?” asked Andrew Prosser of the Iowa Attorney General’s office.

“Both,” admitted McFarland, who also acknowledged knowing Techel was married.

When her boyfriend saw the Facebook communications on the computer they shared at their home in Eldon, he told her to stop it. She deleted Techel, taking him off her “friends” list on Facebook in January 2012.

After Techel came up with a fake name, Rick Jones, he and McFarland resumed sending each other emails, she said. Those emails became more explicit, with sexually suggestive comments and nude or near-nude photos sent between the two.  

“How were you feeling toward Mr. Techel?” asked Prosser.

“I liked him,” McFarland said.

Drew Ballard, 26 of Eldon, who’d been living with McFarland in January, 2012,  testified to finding their computer still logged in to her email. And there were many emails from a name he didn’t recognize. He read them.

He printed the emails, then texted McFarland that they had to talk. He confronted her. McFarland testified that she felt “really bad,” and that Ballard had done nothing to deserve such treatment.

“I was going to try to work things out with Drew,” she testified.

The emailing stopped. That’s when Seth Techel bought a TracFone, she said.

Around this time, she received a very angry phone call from Lisa Techel. Details of that call were not entered into evidence, but it did include some swearing, McFarland acknowledged.

She and Seth Techel then began using the TracFone to text one another.

“He wanted to be with me... when he divorced his wife,” McFarland said.

Occasionally, they would meet up, though never at Job Corps where they both worked, she said. Usually, they’d meet at a park. They’d talk, sometimes about sex, kiss, touch each other through their clothing.

“Did you love him?” Prosser asked.

She did, she said.

Around this time — May, 2012 — she and the man she lived with broke up. She said there was no specific reason that happened. Ballard later testified the relationship with Techel was a factor in asking her to leave.

She went to meet with Techel at Pioneer Ridge Nature Area. He told her he loved her, she said.  That wasn’t the first time. He said we had everything in common, and that things weren’t working out with Lisa, she testified. Rachel suggested counseling “to be sure.”

While at Pioneer Ridge, Rachel said, she received a phone call from another man she had met at Job Corps. At that point, she said, she and the other man were just friends, but she admitted that she liked him. They eventually became boyfriend and girlfriend.

Techel was angry when the man called, McFarland testified, and acted very jealous.

“That’s when he said, ‘Just give me two more weeks,’” she testified.

She believed he was going to then tell his wife he wanted a divorce. As for McFarland, she  was going to move in with her parents in Bloomfield, she said. She told Techel she didn’t want to move in with another guy right then.

Under cross examination by the defense, she said Seth was okay with her not wanting to move in with anyone.

On the 25th of May, they texted each other but stopped around 11 p.m. or Midnight, McFarland said, because Lisa would be getting home from work.

“So you’re telling her tonight,” said a series of emails to Techel from McFarland.

In court, there was no answer on her phone. Responding texts had been deleted by McFarland, who said she was “scared” after she heard about Lisa’s death. Only her texts remained.

• I’m super excited.

• Yes. Are you nervous?

• I want you.

• I love you.

One message from Techel prior to the day of the shooting said “wish me luck.”

McFarland said he was going to tell his wife he wanted a divorce. The way she understood that conversation: He said that he told Lisa, and that she was mad, then sad, and that he ended up sleeping on the couch. She wanted him to be there when she got home from work to help pack her things.

The defense asked how many times they actually met. Four or five times, McFarland said. Did you ever have sex? No, she said. Skin to skin contact? No. See each other in person naked? No, she said. Did they discuss marriage? No.

So, Gardner said, it was primarily electronic messaging, and meeting in public places four or five times. She was leaving a boyfriend and talking to a new guy. She didn’t want to live with anybody just then as she wanted her space. That doesn’t sound like a romantic involvement, said Gardner.

And hadn’t Seth Techel told her that he’d be starting a new job away from Job Corps in two weeks? He had, McFarland said.  

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