The Ottumwa Courier

May 7, 2013

Techel attorney files objections on retrial venue, judicial prejudice

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — The selection of Henry County as the location of Seth Techel's retrial is being challenged by the defense.

Techel's attorney has accused prosecutors of forum shopping in asking for the retrial in Henry County, and has made claims of prejudice by the judge overseeing the case and inappropriate use of social media by state witnesses.

In March, a Wapello County jury found itself deadlocked after a month-long trial of Techel's case. Techel, 22, is charged with first-degree murder and non-consensual termination of a human pregnancy in the shooting death of his wife, Lisa Caldwell Techel, and their unborn child at their rural Agency home in May 2012.

Techel's attorney, Steven Gardner, filed several motions last week, including claiming that moving the retrial to Henry County in August was an inappropriate choice.

"The pretrial publicity and news causing it unfair and inappropriate for a trial to be held in Wapello County is equally applicable to the venue of Henry County, and Henry County is therefore an inappropriate place for venue of retrial herein," Gardner wrote in the motion.

He wrote that state prosecutors Andy Prosser and Scott Brown conducted "forum shopping," alleging that they knew Techel would be unable to obtain a fair trial in Henry County.

He also filed an objection to state witnesses carrying weapons and providing security.

"During the first trial ... the court allowed state witnesses to carry loaded firearms during testimony and provide security during trial, both in the Wapello County Courthouse and in the courtroom," Gardner wrote, referencing Wapello County Sheriff's deputies and reserve officers who both testified and provided security outside the courtroom. "To allow state witnesses to carry loaded weapons and provide courthouse security is improper and results in prejudice to [Techel] as well as deny his right to a fair and impartial jury trial and due process of law."

Gardner also filed a motion to restrict law enforcement's use of Facebook, Twitter and other electronic communication to influence public opinion and juror behavior, specifically citing and admitting copies of tweets by Wapello County Sheriff reserve officer and Wapello County Jail administrator Jeremy Weller. Weller was called to testify throughout the trial but was also present outside the courtroom providing security.

"During the course of the trial, members of the Wapello County Sheriff's Department and Wapello County Sheriff's Reserve communicated publicly by Facebook/Twitter and other electronic means of communication to attempt to inflame public passion and prejudice and attempt to influence proposed juror panelists and the inpaneled jury herein," Gardner wrote.

He also filed a motion to change the judge from Judge Daniel Wilson, of District 8A, to the "Chief Judge of the Eighth Judicial District," due to alleged prejudice of Wilson, citing 11 incidents during the first trial, including failing "to strike for cause jurors who had formed and expressed an opinion as to the guilt of [Techel]," allowing the state to introduce evidence previously deemed inadmissible and more. Currently, Mary Ann Brown serves as the chief judge of the Eighth Judicial District.

He also filed a motion in limine, requesting that state prosecutors be admonished for violating ABA Standards for Criminal Justice.

Prior to the trial, the state filed a motion in limine to prohibit the defense from mentioning the death of Brian Tate (a neighbor of the Techels that the defense suggested could have been responsible for Lisa's death), saying it was "without evidentiary support and prejudicial to the state."

In his motion, Gardner wrote that the state then contradicted its own motion during closing arguments, when it argued "that the death of Brian Tate was 'caused by the defense.'" He said the state's conduct was done "with the intent to cultivate bias in the jury, deny [Techel] a right to an impartial jury and inflame the jurors deepest prejudices."

Techel's retrial is currently scheduled to begin on Aug. 12 in Henry County.

To follow Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to @ChelseaLeeDavis.