The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

February 25, 2013

1 p.m. Trial update: Investigators face questions

OTTUMWA — Seth Techel's murder trial resumed Monday with two investigators facing questions about their roles in the case.

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.

Birmingham called a phone registered to Techel and found in his bedroom Techel's "real phone." A second cell phone, a prepaid Tracfone, was found in Techel's vehicle.

Prosecutors alleged in their opening testimony that Techel used the Tracfone to conceal his relationship with Rachel McFarland, a co-worker. Tracfones are not contract phones, and the company does not collect information on who is assigned a number in the same way as most cell phone companies.

"Unlike most subscribers, Tracfones, there's limited information that's able to be retrieved," said Birmingham.

Both sides agree Techel was romantically interested in McFarland, though the prosecution and defense disagree on how far their relationship went.

Birmingham said each of the text messages sent from the Tracfone were sent to a number identified as belonging to McFarland.

Prosser referred to much of his questioning as “foundational.” Details would come later, he said, as the co-worker Seth Techel had feelings for would be coming in to testify on Monday.   

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 custody? How long did it take before he had the phones in hand?

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.

That spreadsheet, more than 450 pages long, was not entered into evidence. A portion of that spread sheet covering the period around the shooting of Lisa Techel was entered into evidence.

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