Courier Staff Writer
Witnesses on the first day of testimony described the first minutes of their arrival at the Seth and Lisa Techel home in rural Agency.
Prosecutors went in order of arrival of emergency personnel as the state pursued a conviction of Seth Techel of Agency for murder in the first degree and involuntary termination of a human pregnancy. Therefore, the first witness called by the prosecution was Ray Schafer, a now-retired 911 dispatcher.
The prosecution played a tape for their witness and the jury.
“Is this the tape of the [911 call] you received?” asked Andrew Prosser, one of two state prosecutors assigned to the case.
Schafer confirmed that it was the call from the day Lisa Techel of Agency was shot and killed in May 2012. Lisa was pregnant at the time of her death.
On the tape, a male voice identified as Seth Techel could be heard saying, “My wife’s been shot. She’s not breathing!”
Sheriff’s dispatch transferred the call. When a breathless-sounding Techel repeated his message, a female voice identified as an Ottumwa Regional Health Center ambulance dispatcher said, “Sir, calm down.”
Techel told the dispatcher to hurry.
Schafer acknowledged he hadn’t caught that the caller had said “shot.” Maybe he thought the caller said “shock,” he agreed. But the second time Techel called, he heard “shot” clearly.
That call came in demanding to know where the ambulance was. Techel could be heard sobbing intermittently during the call.
When the first deputy on the scene arrived, Seth was doubled over and appeared to be sobbing, Wapello County Deputy Marty Wonderlin said. He considered Seth to be a friend, someone he’d known for three years. But when asked if Seth was actually crying, Wonderlin said Seth’s eyes were not wet.
“I specifically noticed there were no tears coming from his eyes,” the deputy said.
When the deputy asked Seth what happened, he testified, Techel told him he was in the shower getting ready for work. He heard one shot. He grabbed a towel and went to the bedroom. He saw Lisa was not breathing. He grabbed his pistol, telling Wonderlin he ran through the house,
When Wonderlin asked why Seth did that, the deputy recalled that the defendant “said he was going to kill whoever the f*#% did it.”
Steven Gardner, the defense attorney for Techel, played the entire dashboard tape from Wonderlin’s patrol car from the time he received the call.
Techel could be heard sobbing at times.
At no point, Gardner told Wonderlin, did I hear you tell anyone that you didn’t believe Seth was actually crying. We didn’t see that until your report was filed several days later, he said. The deputy agreed.
At one point on the tape, family members of Lisa Techel arrived on the scene. Moments later, a woman’s scream could be heard.
When Lisa’s father, Todd Caldwell, an off-duty deputy, was seen on the dashboard camera, he told fellow law enforcement officers, “Go get him. Go get him now!”
Wonderlin testified that Caldwell may have pointed in the direction of a neighbor’s house. And that the deputy may have, at some time, received information about the neighbor who lived at that house.
The defense had previously told the jury that the person referred to by Caldwell was also the person Techel suspected of possibly killing Lisa: a known dangerous and deluded man who considered the Techels to be enemies.
“Did you visually examine Seth Techel?” Gardner asked Wonderlin.
“I looked at him, yes,” said the deputy.
The attorney asked if Seth had any blood on him, mud, grass, bruising or redness. He did not, Wonderlin said. The defense asked questions about which doors people used to enter the house. Most had used the west door, witnesses said. None had used the east door. They also confirmed that the east door was open.
The defense also asked about a big dog in the driveway. When you pulled up, did the dog bark? No, said Brian Bennett, a paramedic who was the first rescuer to arrive at the Techel home. But he did come over to my car. Was the dog aggressive toward you? No, sir, said Bennett. Was that dog familiar to you? No.
The defense may have asked about the dog because of opening arguments: The state said one of the things they found suspicious was that no one reported hearing a dog bark. If an intruder shot Lisa, as the defense claimed in their opening argument, wouldn’t the dog have been barking at them?
Gardner appeared to be attempting to answer that question. He asked whether the dog ever barked during what Bennett had described as “a flurry of people coming and going.”
The dog did not bark at all, Bennett said. Wonderlin said he, too, did not recall hearing the dog bark.
Bennett said when he got to the home around 5:30 a.m., he saw Seth Techel, barefoot and wearing just a pair of shorts, seeming “hysterical.”
Bennett testified to prosecutors that he could not tell at first glance what was wrong with the victim, Lisa Techel. When he didn’t feel a pulse, he began CPR. He still could not see any obvious cause of an emergency. Later, when Wonderlin arrived, the two rescuers tried to help Lisa through CPR.
There was no obvious wound, Bennett said. There was no sign of a struggle in the bedroom where Lisa Techel lay on the bed. But when they tried to move her, Bennett said, they “discovered a copious amount of blood” under her body as well as what appeared to be a bullet wound. The blood appeared fresh, the paramedic said, and Lisa was still warm to the touch.
Prosecutors asked if, at any time during the rescue effort, Seth Techel entered the bedroom. The answer from both Bennett and Wonderlin was no, he did not. Both, upon arrival, had seen him on the porch.
The trial resumes Monday. Deputy Marty Wonderlin is expected to retake the witness stand.
Order of response in Techel case
The order of other events in the response to the home of the Techels, according to a squad car dash camera:
• The deputy was dispatched to a call of a female who was not breathing.
• The dispatcher then said it was a possible shooting. The deputy stopped at the bottom of the driveway and retrieved an assault rifle from a locked compartment in his squad car.
• The deputy arrived at the home and quickly scanned the rural Agency house to make sure there were no armed assailants.
• When he saw a paramedic performing CPR by himself, he ran back to the car, put away his rifle, then ran back in to assist with the resuscitation effort.
• When they determined the victim was deceased, the deputy recovered his rifle and, with assistance from another deputy, began a more detailed search for a gunman or other hidden person.
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