The Ottumwa Courier

February 28, 2013

Father, cop, witness: Todd Caldwell takes the stand

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — The prosecution called some impressive forensic experts as they pursue a conviction of Seth Techel, accused of murdering his wife Lisa. But the witness who seemed to draw the jury’s attention most Thursday was a local cop who has been at the trial every day.

 Lisa’s father, Deputy Todd Caldwell, testified for the state — both as a law enforcement professional and as a father.

“Everybody that met Lisa loved Lisa,” Caldwell said when called to the stand. “She was my best friend.”

 It was tough for him to talk about how proud he was when he got a letter about his girl: After she completed a law enforcement internship at DCI, her supervisor wrote to Caldwell.

“She said how lucky I am to have a daughter like that. And that I must be a good father because daughters like that don’t just happen.”

The court gave Caldwell time before he had to continue. Lisa, a reserve deputy, also liked to bowl, he said. She hoped to “become a cop, work the street then maybe become an agent.”

Caldwell said Seth was like a son to him. One of the motives the state has suggested is that because Caldwell could help Seth’s job search for a law enforcement position, he could not just divorce Lisa. Defense attorneys have suggested Seth already landed a law enforcement job.

Caldwell was asked whether he was helpful to Seth in applying for a job at the Wapello County Sheriff’s department.

“I gave him a very high recommendation,” Caldwell said.

What he didn’t say — and what prosecutors have not yet asked any witness — was whether Techel had actually been offered the job.

Caldwell talked about his own law enforcement duties, which included multiple contacts with a neighbor the defense has suggested could have shot Lisa Techel.

“I thought Brian Tate was making stuff up and trying to blame it on my son-in-law,” Deputy Caldwell said.

Tate, 57, called dispatchers several times. He wanted rocks and dog feces collected as evidence, and tire prints tested from the road by his house. Someone was pulling up and throwing things on his property, he insisted.

The previous deputy who’d gone out thought the neighbor was mentally deranged. By his demeanor, Caldwell suspected the same: The man called what happened — which Caldwell would say, at worst, was vandalism or criminal mischief — “acts of terrorism against him.”

Tate told authorities after he left Vietnam and the Army, he continued to give himself annual promotions. He was now a sergeant major, he told deputies. He sat in a lawn chair with a shotgun next to him and explained that he performed night surveillance on his property.

 He had collected a bunch of rocks he said were evidence of the terrorist acts against him. He said his neighbors, the Torkingtons or Torkaltons (he’d meant the Techels) were the only ones who’d want to hurt him.

Caldwell had asked Seth if he was causing any trouble for the guy, or if any of his friends were doing so. Techel said he wasn’t and that the neighbor was crazy. Just don’t get into it with this guy, Caldwell told Seth. He felt the man could be a danger, and warned other deputies to use extreme caution going out to the Tate residence.

While Tate may or may not have had mental health issues, he was not imagining things. And a state witness testified that Seth knew that quite well.

“Seth told us to go mess with his neighbor, Tate,” said a 17-year-old boy who has known Seth most of his life.

The teen hunted with him and worked at his parents’ business. With no further direction or suggestions from Techel, the teen and his high school pals filled two buckets with dog feces, went to Tate’s house and dumped feces on his porch and vehicle. Then they ran.

Later in April, 2012, and without being told to do so, they threw rocks on the man’s roof late at night. When they told Seth, the boy testified, Seth laughed.

Defense attorney Steven Gardner has previously told jurors his client didn’t always use the best judgment. But he didn’t shoot anyone, especially his high school sweetheart, Lisa. Any evidence that could have shown who actually shot Lisa, or at least eliminated Seth as a suspect, was fumbled, Gardner said.

He asked the teen whether the house stayed locked. No, it wasn’t, he said. Another man, a roommate, testified to the same effect.

Thursday, Division of Criminal Investigation crime lab technician Richard Crivello testified for the state that neither Seth Techel nor anyone else’s fingerprints were found on the murder weapon or the shells in the gun.

But that’s not unusual, he said.

A hand print on the door to the house was tested, named as undetermined, retested twice and finally said to belong to a former roommate. The work was checked by the former head of the DCI Crime Lab. He agreed with the results.

Except the results were in error, Gardner said: It reported the print belonged to person “A” when the examiner states the print was from person “B”. The other scientist who confirmed the first scientist’s results made the same error.

Upon cross examination by Gardner, Crivello admitted that it was an error, and added, “I didn’t [realize] that until today — until you pointed it out.”

In addition, questioning by the defense revealed, the shell that fired the bullet that killed Lisa Techel was not tested for fingerprints. Crivello said he was told not to test it, but cannot recall who told him that.

When Dr. Julia Gooden, the state medical examiner, testified a black hair was found in Lisa’s hand. It’s unclear so far whether the hair was ever tested, but it was not tested by Dr. Gooden. That evidence was sent to DCI, she said.

Gooden testified Lisa Techel was killed by a single slug from a shotgun, and that the angle was consistent with someone shooting her from the foot of the bed while she slept.

 

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