Opening arguments started and ended Thursday in the case of an Agency man accused of killing his wife.
The jury, nine men and six women, heard outlines of why prosecutors believe Seth Techel committed the crime as well as why the defense attorney believes Techel did not kill Lisa Techel, his pregnant wife.
Andy Prosser, the prosecutor from the Iowa Attorney General’s office, said he would show the jury evidence that Seth Techel was having an affair. Prosser has cell phones, phone records and some of the messages sent to a love interest.
“He committed these horrific crimes for the oldest reason in the book: love. Or lust,” Prosser said.
He had further motive, too, Prosser told the jury. Seth Techel wanted to be a police officer. If he divorced Lisa, he feared his dream would be a lost cause, because Lisa’s father is a deputy sheriff. Plus, while he did want to leave Lisa for another woman, he did not want to pay child support.
Witnesses and evidence would support such statements, Prosser said.
Steven Gardner, the defense attorney for Seth Techel, told the jury that the state has to talk about what they call an affair because they lacked physical evidence.
The motives laid out by the state are not true, said Gardner. For one thing, Seth was scheduled to start a job as a correctional officer with the Wapello County Sheriff’s office. He and Lisa were childhood sweethearts.
Phone messages with sexually suggestive photographs and dumb, flirtatious messages may be called an affair, but evidence will show besides several kisses, Gardner said, there was no sex in the relationship.
“They never got a hotel room, she never went to his home, he never went to her house. There was never any sex,” he told jurors.
Prosser had said that Techel, a trained emergency responder who has bragged about saving lives in his past role as a volunteer firefighter, did nothing to save his wife. Prosecutors said 18 minutes passed before he even called 911.
Techel’s story to the police changed the more he told it, Prosser said. Not only is there something to be learned by what the defendant said, just as important is what Seth Techel “omitted” from his statements to officers.
Gardner said officers weren’t looking very hard for evidence. Evidence that could have proven Techel was innocent was ignored.
There’s no blood found in the sink, there’s no blood on the shower and no blood in the drain. They didn’t test his clothes for blood. They didn’t check him for gun powder residue. They could have.
Gardner also said an investigator told Seth they needed to test him for gun powder residue to “eliminate him as a suspect.”
The investigator asked what they’d find when they tested Seth. Gardner said his client told the investigator they’d find nothing since he hadn’t fired a weapon. Investigators never did the test, Gardner said.
What Seth Techel had done, said Gardner, was to call 911 almost immediately.
“I need an ambulance, my wife’s been shot,” said a voice identified as Techel on the 911 tape played in court Thursday.
Gardner said he’d let the jury decide if the voice on the tape was that of a man who had just found his wife with a gunshot wound or of someone who had just committed murder.
“He called back. ‘Where are you? My wife’s been shot!’” Gardner told jurors.
He had further video and photos.
However at one point, Prosser objected to an item being displayed on an overhead screen. It wasn’t evidence, but was being used as such, Prosser said.
The point of contention, which required the jury to be lead out of the courtroom, was a memo that may have confirmed something Techel had said.
When Seth Techel was being questioned after the shooting, the state investigator asked who could have shot Lisa. Gardner said his client believed the murder could have been committed by a deranged neighbor. That neighbor, said the attorney, was under the impression that Seth and Lisa were terrorists.
They knew that because Lisa’s father, Deputy Todd Caldwell, had told them, Gardner said.
And according to Gardner, when Caldwell arrived at the crime scene, he told other law enforcement officers, ‘“Go get him. Go get him now!’ And he wasn’t referring to Seth Techel,” Gardner said.
The lawyer then put up a screen shot of an email Caldwell had sent to other deputies. That’s when the prosecution, lead by Prosser, objected.
The judge asked the jury to step out. None of those things on the screen had been entered into evidence. The defense said the rules allow him to refer to such items in his opening if he reasonably believes those items will later be entered into evidence.
But some things would not make it into evidence, Prosser said. If we’d known about these slides and videos being used in the opening by the defense, he could have objected to them earlier. The email talking about a dangerous neighbor? It would have been objected to on the grounds that it was hearsay.
When using the term hearsay, Prosser was not saying Todd Caldwell is unreliable. From a legal standpoint, only evidence presented in court can be considered binding.
Prosser also objected to showing a transcript to the jury with the parts the defense finds helpful, only to object later to allowing the state to enter the transcript into evidence.
“He wants to have his cake and eat it, too,” Prosser said.
The judge ruled that the email would not be projected onto the screen but that Gardner could refer to it.
The trial recessed for the day after noon because attorneys for both sides, as well as the judge, were concerned about weather conditions that could prove dangerous to jurors.
If weather permits, the trial will resume at 1 p.m. today.
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