Courier Staff Writer
A series of painful moments in court affected the loved ones of Lisa Techel, who was shot and killed last May.
Prosecutors brought into the courtroom the shotgun they say Seth Techel used to kill his wife Lisa. Prosecutors entered a number of crime scene photos into evidence as well.
Techel has been charged with murder and non-consensual termination of a human pregnancy. Lisa was four months pregnant.
Prosecutors walked criminalist Mike Halverson through the photos taken at the Techel home in Agency. Halverson is an investigator with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
The photos included the home, a gun rack and the bedroom where rescuers had found Lisa Techel's body. Loved ones cried and quietly supported one another as prosecutors showed the photos of Lisa. She had been killed in her bed by a single slug from a 12 gauge shotgun.
Later, the defense apologized for getting the slides out for their own arguments, which gave at least two visitors the chance to excuse themselves from the courtroom.
Behind the bed is a panel for the shower pipes. Techel said he was in the shower when he heard a gunshot.
Michael Schakel, a former security officer at the Ottumwa Job Corps site, was the prosecution’s first witness Wednesday.
He’d noticed at work Techel had more than one cell phone and asked about it. At first, Techel declined to discuss it, Schakel testified, but eventually acknowledged using one cell phone to communicate with fellow employee Rachel McFarland, with whom prosecutors say Seth Techel was having an affair.
Techel showed Schakel text messages and photos from the cell phone, including one in which McFarland was posing in a swimsuit. Techel told his fellow security officer that he loved McFarland.
At one point, the witness said, Seth Techel was gone from his post for about an hour and a half. Schakel could hear muttering and giggling through Techel’s walkie-talkie, which had been locked into the “on” position.
Schakel said he also overheard a phone argument between Techel and his wife Lisa. Afterwards, Techel told Schakel it would be "easier if she was in a car wreck and died."
When asked why he didn't just get a divorce, Schakel said Techel didn't want to pay child support, nor would he risk hurting his relationship with her father. Lisa’s father is a deputy at the Wapello County Sheriff’s department where Techel had been seeking — and said he found — a job as a correctional officer.
Defense attorney Steven Gardner questioned Schakel's assessment of Techel's relationship with McFarland.
It's an important point for the defense, which has argued Techel's relationship with McFarland wasn’t smart, but involved no sex and wasn’t a reason to kill.
"You never observed Rachel McFarland with Seth Techel?" Gardner asked
"No," Schakel said.
Prosecutor Andy Prosser brought the gun into court. Halverson identified it for jurors, along with a single, spent shotgun shell recovered from the gun.
Most of the afternoon was spent with a cross examination of the investigator, who acknowledged making a mistake by not having the spent shell casing dusted for fingerprints.
A pair of reserve deputies found the shotgun and summoned others. Photos show the tree by which the gun was found had crime scene attached and an "X" painted on it. The gun was in taller grass near the tree.
Gardner questioned why the shotgun wasn’t found until the second day, since deputies stood right in that spot while putting up crime scene tape.
Halverson said it was not easy to see the gun; at one point the prosecution had earlier allowed him to walk across the courtroom to the screen to look at a projected slide in order to spot the gun in the grass.
Gardner asked if the investigator had been informed by the special agent in charge that there was “an extremist neighbor” who did not like the Techels at all. Halverson said he had been told that by two different law enforcement officials. It took several hours to get DCI to the crime scene, and they arrived in a marked crime scene truck, as well as other police vehicles possibly visible from the home of a neighbor, Brian Tate.
The defense will have the chance to bring in its own witnesses, but during their cross examination of the prosecution witnesses Wednesday, especially Halverson, they raised multiple points:
• You discovered an American flag attached to the fence between the Tate and Techel properties.
• You say the door to the house was closed. A deputy testified it was open. Who closed a door at the crime scene?
• You found no bloody clothing. No clothing with gun powder residue. No blood in the shower, the drain or around the washing machine. No evidence the washing machine had been used to launder clothing recently. Seth Techel was not test to find blood or gunpowder residue on his person.
But Gardner attempted to hammer home two more points, both revolving around the porch door nearest to where the gun was found.
A single glove lay at the door. Did you search outside for the other glove. No, I did not, Halverson said. Was it tested for blood? No, said Halverson. Gun powder? No. Why not? Because it didn’t seem relevant to the case, the investigator said. Gardner argued that the glove looked like it was dropped at the door which was just 90 feet from the place the gun was found.
Investigators had photographed the porch and much of the home’s interior. They also seemingly had images of every item in the kitchen.
Something in the photos that seemed to stick out for Gardner: An entire peanut butter and jelly sandwich sealed in a Ziplock bag, sitting in the middle of the porch.
When he looked at the photo evidence, he found no sliced bread or empty bread bags. The sink, with dirty dishes, had no knife used for peanut butter that the investigator could recall. There was jelly in the fridge, but the investigators had not compared it to the jelly in the sandwich on the porch. They also didn’t check for prints on the bag. The kitchen had two boxes of store brand bags, no boxes of Ziplock bags.
Prosser discussed with the DCI employee whether it’s typical to be “selective” at a crime scene. They agreed there are thousands of items that could be tested. Investigators have to use their best judgment to find evidence. They collected guns, cell phones, shell casings and bedding, for example.
However, Halverson told Prosser, in his opinion, searching for Ziplock bags, sandwich fixings and single gloves was not an important consideration for DCI while processing the scene.
CNHI editor Matt Milner contributed to this story.
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