The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

February 26, 2013

Murder trial attorneys argue motive

Prosecution says romantic entanglement drove man to murder

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

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

McFarland, 22, of Bloomfield, took the stand Monday afternoon, where she acknowledged several facts the prosecution said they understood would be difficult for her.

She met Seth 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.

Witness Drew Ballard, 26, of Eldon, who had 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 would meet at a park. They would 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 OK 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 texts 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.  

Other witnesses

Prosecutors called Tony Birmingham of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Monday morning. Birmingham testified about the cell phones taken from the Techel residence after Lisa Techel was killed May 26, 2012.

Birmingham had Seth Techel’s “real” cell phone, as he called it, and a second cell phone, a prepaid TracFone, found in Techel’s vehicle.

Birmingham said he turned both the TracFone and the regular cell phone over to another special agent in order to find out what was on it.

That agent, Jason Owens, used computer software to examine the phones — or, at least, one of the phones. TracFones, he said, are known to be difficult to recover anything from.

“So you struck out on the TracFone?” Prosser asked him.

“I did,” Owens replied.

Defense Attorney Steven Gardner questioned Birmingham about the chain of custody of the cell phones: Who told you where to find Techel’s phones? Where did the phones get taken into his possession? How long did it take before he had the phones?

A third witness was a representative from U.S. Cellular, who confirmed that the company had, upon receiving a search warrant, dumped onto an electronic spreadsheet all information from records on the regular phone.

A portion of that spread sheet covering the period around the shooting of Lisa Techel was entered into evidence.

Other details from the trial:

• Though the defense previously showed that the dog “Remington” would probably not bark at an intruder, a law enforcement officer on the stand told the prosecution that a second dog on the property “went nuts” barking as he walked past.

• The defense confirmed deputies put up yellow crime scene tape that went around the Techel home, including tape going right up to the tree where the murder weapon was found.

• Prosecutors asked if Techel stopped sobbing. Deputy Marty Wonderlin said Techel stopped every time the deputy was on the phone.

• The defense pointed out a photo of a glove that had not been on the porch at the home before the shooting took place. Gardner showed a teething puppy walking along the porch with a family friend who had searched the porch to avoid having the dog chew on anything he could damage — or that could hurt the puppy. He saw no glove before the shooting.

• Gardner referred to a sworn statement in a police report in which an investigator said the defendant and coworker Rachel McFarland had begun a romantic relationship in October 2011. McFarland did not know Seth Techel in October 2011, she testified. They met at a work  meeting in November and began flirting on Facebook in December.

 

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