The Ottumwa Courier

March 8, 2013

Jury will get Techel case Monday

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Both the defense and prosecution have rested in the Seth Techel trial.

Techel, 22, is charged with first-degree murder and non-consensual termination of a human pregnancy in the death of his wife, Lisa Caldwell Techel, and their unborn child, on May 26, 2012 at their home in rural Agency.

The defense, represented by attorneys Steven Gardner and Robert Box, called their final witnesses on Friday: Wapello County Sheriff Chief Deputy Don Phillips; the neighbor of the Techels and Brian Tate, Rodney Stevens; Wapello County Sheriff Deputy Marty Wonderlin; Wapello County Sheriff reserve deputy and 9-1-1 dispatcher Thomas Millikin; and Jail Administrator Jeremy Weller.

Jurors heard an audio recording of an interview between Wapello County Sheriff deputies and Brian Tate and his mother, Mary Lou Tate; radio traffic between Wonderlin and 9-1-1 dispatcher Ray Schafer on his way to the murder scene; and calls from Schafer to Techel immediately following the murder.

The recording is the most extensive communications the jury has heard involving Tate, who has died in the months since the murder. It took place four days after Lisa Techel's death.

In the recording, the deputies asked Tate what he was doing the night before and the morning of Lisa's murder. He said he had gone to bed around 8 p.m. May 25, as did his mother and brother, Kreg.

Tate told the deputies he had not heard about a murder until Stevens called him shortly after he woke up at 11 a.m. May 26, around five hours after the murder.

"He said somebody had heard on the scanner that there was a possibility of a 20-year-old pregnant woman who got murdered at 8523," he said on the recording.

Tate walked down the road in both directions and didn't see an 8523 address. Eventually, Mary Lou stepped out of the house and saw the yellow tape at the Techel residence, 8723 Fox Hills Road.

Tate told the deputies that the sheriff's department had done little to help him with the vandalism his house had experienced.

"I felt if you guys maybe would've been more present out in this area, maybe this wouldn't have happened, you know what I mean. That's my own opinion," he said.

The deputies asked Tate if the Techels had any firearms, which he said he believed they did. "There's a lot of shooting going on around here," Tate said. "It ain't as quiet and peaceful as it is in Agency."

He also insisted that he was not a troublemaker and checking with neighbors would confirm that.

The deputies asked Tate what guns he owned. He listed them and eventually took the deputies down to his bedroom in the basement to show them the firearms, which he said ranged from a BB or pellet gun up to a high-powered rifle.

"I don't trust people anymore," Tate said, who also said his guns are for "defensive purposes only."

Tate showed them a range of firearms and his gun cabinet.

"I keep them right there ... where I can bail out of bed and be right down here if someone starts shooting at me," Tate said.

Phillips asked Tate if he had anything to do with Lisa's death.

"No, I didn't," Tate said.

He also asked the deputies if they had "found the weapon yet."

"It makes me nervous you thinking I'm a suspect," Tate said, though Phillips reassured him he wasn't the first person they had asked. "If I'd sworn on a stack of Bibles in the courtroom, I would say I didn't do it ... because I was in bed asleep the night it happened. ...I hope you find out 'cause it'd put my mind at ease if you find whoever done it."

As the deputies walked back out to their vehicle, Tate could be heard in the background yelling after them, "Good luck, guys!"

Phillips and Wonderlin also testified about their experience at the Tate home on May 30.

Prosser asked Phillips if the 12-gauge shotgun shells seen in Brian's bedroom were similar to the ammunition found at the Techel residence.

"They were the same brand and same color, but Deputy Wonderlin advised me that the markings on the outside were faded ... compared to that found in the shotgun at the Techel residence," Phillips said.

Gardner asked Phillips if Tate seemed paranoid. Yes, he did, Phillips said.

Phillips also said that he only learned this week that there was a phone call made from Schafer to Techel the morning of the murder.

Before the jury arrived on Friday, Stevens testified about past communication he had had with Tate. The defense has suggested throughout the trial that Tate, a neighbor of the Techel home, could be Lisa's killer. On Sept. 30, Mary Lou Tate found her son Brian dead in his bed.

Stevens said Tate had told him the sheriff's department was not cooperating with him after his property had been vandalized multiple times.

"...[Brian] said he'd been staying out in the garage trying to catch them," Stevens said.

But in a phone call in spring 2012 (before Lisa's murder), Stevens tried to return a phone call from Brian and instead spoke with his mother, who told Stevens that Brian was agitated and had been staying up all night.

"She said that it'd be better to not contact [Brian] so maybe he could calm down," Stevens said.

While prosecutor Scott Brown said Stevens' testimony was "hearsay and irrelevant," Wilson granted the defense's request for Stevens to testify in front of the jury.

Stevens told jurors that three weeks before Lisa's murder Tate asked him for help "in the area of security" and told him he was "staying out in the garage trying to catch some people that were doing things to the property."

When he called back, he spoke instead with Mary Lou, who said "Brian was not sleeping at night, was staying in the garage and she had mentioned something about his medication, but I don't recall exactly what it was," Stevens said. "She said it would be better if I left him alone and not to contact him 'cause she was trying to keep him from getting stirred up."

The day of the murder, 9-1-1 dispatcher Ray Schafer took all calls related to Lisa's death.

The court listened to radio traffic between dispatch and Wonderlin the morning of the murder, which first reported a "lady not breathing," then later "advise that  lady has been shot."

At some point in the radio traffic recording, Wonderlin asked the dispatcher to call deputy Todd Caldwell, Lisa's father. Why would you ask the dispatcher to have Caldwell get out there? Gardner asked.

"At that point I hadn't seen the gunshot and in my mind I was hoping she hadn't been shot and was maybe we were still just dealing with Lisa wasn't breathing," Wonderlin said. "I felt like he [Caldwell] should be there."

The court also listened to the recording of the call Schafer made to Techel's land line the morning of Lisa's murder.

Amidst Techel crying, the court could hear him yelling, "She's been [expletive] shot!" and telling Schafer that he had been taking a shower to get ready for work while Lisa was sleeping in bed.

"I don't know what to do..." Techel said in tears.

In the second call from Schafer to Techel's land line, Schafer asked Techel if he was having problems with anybody.

"Yeah, we have," Techel said, still crying. "He shot her!"

The trial will conclude next week with closing arguments, jury deliberations and the final verdict.

Wilson and the attorneys discussed jury instructions after jurors were dismissed, which will be finalized over the weekend and presented Monday morning.

Gardner renewed his motion that the court enter a judgment to acquit Techel on the two charges against him. The motion was overruled.

Closing arguments begin at 9 a.m. Monday.



BREAKOUT BOX

Possible glitches in sheriff dispatch software, computers

Friday afternoon, Wapello County Sheriff 9-1-1 dispatcher Thomas Millikin took the stand to, in essence, describe what the computer system the dispatchers use as he did Thursday morning, except this time he spoke in front of the jury.

Millikin analyzed five photos of the dispatch area and the computers and monitors used to receive 9-1-1 calls, radio traffic and general incoming and outgoing phone calls.

The discrepancy was found in differences in durations of the two separate 9-1-1 calls Techel placed to dispatch the morning of the murder. The first call was placed at 5:23 a.m., though one computer shows it lasted 4 minutes, 35 seconds and the other shows it lasted 1 minute 42 seconds. The second call was placed at 5:28 a.m., one computer showing it lasting 1 minute, 33 seconds, the other showing it lasted 1 minute, 42 seconds.

The fifth photo showed an outgoing phone call from the dispatch center to Techel's land line at 5:30 a.m., which lasted 2 minutes, 20 seconds. It also showed a second call made at 5:33 a.m., which lasted approximately 3 minutes, Millikin said, though no receiving phone number was listed.

Box asked why the phone calls could have been split or divided, if that error would be technical or human and why the durations of the 9-1-1 calls would have differed between the two monitors. Millikin did not know, though when Brown asked if the two separate entries of outgoing phone calls were all one call, Millikin said they were.

"In my time as a dispatcher, I've often had to review calls and noticed this has happened with calls before. It happens all the time," Millikin said of the call split into two entries. "I can only guess it's the computer itself splitting it ... but I don't know for certain, no."

Jail Administrator Jeremy Weller also took the stand on Friday.

The morning of May 26, Weller said Phillips asked him for copies of recordings of the radio traffic and 9-1-1 calls from the early morning. Weller said on June 5 he also made a copy of the outgoing phone call to Techel's land line from May 26.

"Nobody specifically asked me to make a copy, I just downloaded it," he said of the outgoing phone call. "I stored it on the computer in my office into a file where I kept a lot of recordings and stuff for this trial."

Box asked Weller if he had ever given the recording of the outgoing call to deputy Phillips. Weller said he didn't recall ever doing that, though he did give Phillips the recordings of the 9-1-1 calls to Phillips the morning of the murder.

Again this week, Weller was subpoenaed to make copies of the outgoing calls for the purposes of the trial.

Weller said that as far as he knows, he "may have been the only one who knew about these calls until Tuesday."