The Ottumwa Courier

April 30, 2013

Venue, date set in Techel retrial Prosecution suggests Henry Co. to escape intense media coverage

By CHELSEA DAVIS Courier staff writer
Ottumwa Courier

---- — OTTUMWA — A new date and venue have been entered in State v. Seth Techel, three months and two counties away.

Defense attorneys Steven Gardner and Robert Box appeared in person in Judge Daniel Wilson's chambers at the Wapello County Courthouse Monday afternoon, while state prosecutors Andy Prosser and Scott Brown and defendant Seth Techel all appeared via telephone.

After suggestions by both parties, Wilson announced he will enter a motion to secure Aug. 12 as the date of retrial, to be held in Mount Pleasant "unless I hear something from court administration that derails that plan."

Prosser suggested Mount Pleasant — county seat of Henry County — as the venue for the retrial as prosecution's "No. 1 pick." The city is approximately one hour east of Ottumwa.

"It's the closest county that takes care of most of the issues we have," Prosser said. "It's also close enough that it won't inconvenience most of the witnesses and families as much as other, more distant potential counties within the district.

"My concern more has been for a location within the district that has good facilities, meaning a big courtroom, space and rooms for meetings, holding witnesses and families and so on."

He also said through recent "article shopping," he found that the trial did not receive as much media coverage in the Mount Pleasant area as it did in Ottumwa and Wapello County.

Prosser said in the archive of Burlington's "The Hawk Eye," only four articles were found concerning the case. "Mt. Pleasant News," Keokuk's "The Daily Gate" and Fort Madison's "Daily Democrat" all had no articles related to the case and the "Washington Evening Journal" had three, Prosser said.

"Publicity has not been widespread in any of the counties under consideration that I can find — certainly nothing like is in the case in Ottumwa," Prosser said.

Gardner suggested, though, that the prosecutors were "forum shopping" and asked instead that the retrial be held in Muscatine, approximately two hours east of Ottumwa. Gardner said Henry County, which is located two counties east of Wapello County, is still too close and is an "inappropriate venue."

Wilson asked Gardner if he had any basis for alleging that prosecutors were forum shopping.

"I think the distance alone is reason, that it's too close," Gardner said.

Wilson didn't agree.

"I don't think any party here is necessarily 'forum shopping,'" Wilson said. "I understand they might want to, but I don't think anybody is really doing that. I think there's a need to select a county generally outside the [Ottumwa] Courier's coverage, at least heavy coverage, and outside the Des Moines TV broadcast stations' coverage. I think Henry County would fit for those concerns."

A Wapello County jury found itself deadlocked in March 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.

At a hearing earlier this month, both prosecution and defense said intense daily media coverage prevented Techel from receiving a fair trial in Wapello County.