Attorneys: No winners in Lepsch case
LA CROSSE, WI — A 12-person jury finds Jeffrey Lepsch guilty for killing Paul and A.J. Petras in their family photo business in downtown La Crosse last September.
It took the jury four hours to come to guilty verdicts on all four counts.
One by one, Hon. Judge Ramona Gonzalez read them out loud.
“We the jury, find Jeffrey P. Lepsch guilty of first-degree intentional homicide,” she said. “Guilt of first degree intentional homicide in count 2. Guilty of armed robbery with use of force. Guilty of possession of a firearm as a felon.”
The jury was allowed to ask for any piece of evidence submitted throughout the trial to review during their deliberations.
At one point, they asked for the transcripts of Lepsch’s interviews with police, but instead of the transcript, the jury was only allowed to watch the hour-long video of the interview again.
They also asked to see still photos taken from surveillance video before making the decision.
“Any homicide case is circumstantial,” said La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke. “You wonder if the jury will kind of be able to tell what happened without someone that was there to tell you what happened. So that’s something you always worry about and wonder about.”
The jury had to decide between two different Lepschs.
“Mr. Lepsch chose to commit murder, to rob camera equipment (and) to sell it to make money,” Gruenke said in his closing arguments.
The prosecution argued Lepsch went into May’s Photo last September, killing Paul and A.J. Petras to steal camera equipment.
They said Lepsch planned to sell the equipment online to to help him and his family that was struggling financially.
They also said all of the evidence shown through the security video, the missing camera equipment from May’s, and the data tracking Paul and A.J.’s cellphones the day they were killed only leads to one person — Lepsch.
“Jeff Lepsch is guilty of stolen property,” said Thomas Huh, one of Lepsch’s defense lawyers. “He did not kill anyone.”
The defense didn’t dispute Lepsch had the stolen camera equipment in his home, but they said there is no evidence linking Lepsch to the Petras’ murders.
“The police gathered everything here, and the important thing to note is Jeff was excluded out of everything at the crime scene,” Huh said in his closing arguments. “His DNA is not on the safe. It’s not on the door. It’s not on A.J. and it’s not on Paul.”
The verdicts could only be comprehended by tears of sadness from Lepsch’s wife, Angie, and their family.
“This is a tragedy for everybody involved and my client and his family are horribly traumatized by this,” said Vincent Rust, another one of Lepsch’s defense attorneys.
As for the Petras family, while the verdicts don’t change what happened to Paul and A.J., they are satisfied to see justice in the courtroom.
“We just wanted to thank Tim, the D.A. and his assistant, and all the police officers and the detectives and all the people that worked on this case,” said Marilyn Ketterer, one of Paul’s sisters. “The support the community gave for our family, and the jury for making the right decision.”
Because Lepsch was convicted of a class-A felony, he will receive mandatory life in prison.
A judge will decide whether he will have the possibility of parole. Lepsch’s sentencing hearing has been scheduled for September 6 at 8:30 a.m.