The Ottumwa Courier

February 25, 2013

1 p.m. Trial update: Investigators face questions

Ottumwa Courier

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.

Birmingham was the first witness prosecutors called to testify mainly about the cell phones. Prosecutors said they plan to call McFarland as a witness Monday afternoon.

Gardner began the morning's proceedings with his cross examination of Deputy Marty Wonderlin. Gardner pressed Wonderlin about a gap of "five to 10 minutes" in the audio in the dashboard video from Wonderlin's patrol car.

"Did you turn off the audio or was there a malfunction? Do you know why there was no audio?" he asked

"Sometimes really loud noise will punch out the sound," Wonderlin said. "Also if I'm, I don't know the exact distance, too far away from my patrol car it won't transmit any audio back."

Wonderlin also said under questioning that he did destroy notes he made after filing his initial report.

"Is it customary for you to destroy your notes in the course of a murder investigation?" asked Gardner

"In any investigation," Wonderlin replied.

Wonderlin called Doug Techel, Seth's father, to the scene that morning. (Disclosure: Doug Techel is the Courier's circulation director.) He said he called him because, "he needed to be there for Seth."

Prosecutor Scott Brown picked up that in his redirect questioning, asking whether Wonderlin called Doug Techel on his own or if he was asked to do so. Seth Techel requested the call, Wonderlin said.

Brown asked whether Seth and Doug Techel were ever alone following Doug's arrival. Wonderlin said they were allowed to talk privately.

Techel's reactions that morning were briefly the subject of the redirect questioning, when prosecutors asked whether he ever stopped crying. Wonderlin said Techel stopped every time the deputy was on the phone.

Techel is charged with murder and non-consensual termination of a human pregnancy.


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