The Ottumwa Courier

February 21, 2013

Jury seated in murder trial

Trial of Techel expected to begin today

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Testimony is expected to begin today in the trial of Seth Techel, the Agency man accused of killing his wife and unborn child.

The jury selection process finished after 4 p.m. Wednesday. It took two full days as lawyers for both sides questioned candidates. Questions were asked both in open court and privately in Judge Daniel Wilson’s office.

Despite a forecasted winter storm, the jury was told to be at the Wapello County Courthouse prior to the 9 a.m. start time today.

When it was the defense attorney’s chance to speak to the jury Wednesday, he introduced himself as local lawyer Steven Gardner and his co-counsel as Robert Box.

He then asked his client, defendant Seth Andrew Techel, to stand up and be introduced to the jury.

Some of the questions he asked potential jurors echoed those asked the previous day by state prosecutors. Those lawyers had already asked if jurors could be objective; those asked generally said they could. When the state asked if they’d made up their minds before hearing the evidence, no one raised their hand.

On Wednesday, Gardner got more specific. In fact, it may have sounded like a rhetorical statement: Raise your hand if you’ve already decided Seth Techel is guilty.

It wasn’t hypothetical: One potential juror raised their hand when asked point blank by Gardner. That juror already had a verdict in mind based on what they’d heard from people in the community. After a day-and-a-half in court, that candidate was dismissed and replaced by an alternate — who was also dismissed.

Eventually, after going through questions and notes, attorney’s whittled the list down to 15, with 12 jurors and three alternate jurors. Only the court knows who is an alternate. Those three will discover that at the end of testimony but before deliberations by the jury working to reach a verdict on one count of murder in the first degree and one count of involuntary termination of a pregnancy. Lisa Techel was pregnant when she was shot and killed in the Agency home she shared with husband Seth Techel.

The questions asked Tuesday and Wednesday may have given jurors their first hint of how the two sides will argue the case.

Gardner asked jurors which of them owned guns. Perhaps a third of the candidates said they did. Asked for the kind of guns they owned, respondents named weapons ranging from an antique .22 rifle and some muzzle-loaded firearms to a semi-automatic 16-gauge shotgun and a .45 pistol.

“I need jurors who are ready to think, ready to analyze, I need reason and logic,” Gardner said and asked one jury pool member, “Do you consider scientific evidence important?”

State prosecutor Scott Brown of the Iowa Attorney General’s office asked jurors if they believed police officers were human and that they could make mistakes like the rest of us. Or, perhaps, if some single piece of evidence was not collected, would it mean the rest of the evidence can be ignored?

He also shared with jurors why he asked if they’d had any interaction with the Wapello County lawyers.

Part of his questioning, he told potential jurors, was to see whether there was a problem with seeing Brown and Prosser as outsiders and if that perception therefore caused them to lose credibility.

“I just want to make sure there’s no bias against us because we’re not from here,” Brown said, adding that he sometimes worries the local attorneys will have an unfair “leg up” over staff from the AG’s office.