Courier Staff Writer
Now that the prosecution has presented its case, the defense is in control of which witnesses come testify in the murder trial of their client, Seth Techel.
Defense attorney Steven Gardner tried to show his client was getting along fine with wife Lisa Techel. The day before the shooting, they’d been out running errands. Nathan Bissell runs a local credit union where Lisa and Seth went to make a loan payment.
“Did you observe them on Friday, May 25?” Gardner asked.
Over the course of 20 minutes or more, he said, he visited with his old friends. They had stopped in his office to chat. They talked, laughed and made a joke about the wisdom of putting a baby safety seat in any car Seth Techel is driving.
“To me, it seemed like every other time I’d ever seen them,” Bissell said.
Prosecutor Scott Brown suggested Bissell was closer to Seth than to Lisa. That’s true, Bissell said.
Another friend, Tammy Grade, also said the Techels acted as though everything was fine during breakfast at the restaurant where she works as a server.
Three of the witnesses Gardner called had a more personal, emotional involvement in the proceedings. Lisa’s step-mother, Amy Caldwell, as well as Seth’s parents, Doug Techel and Lorraine Uehling-Techel.
When Amy Caldwell and another person went to the trailer to get a sentimental item of Lisa’s, they were startled when they saw a man they didn’t recognize. The man, who had white hair and a big beard, was standing at the property line, staring at them.
Gardner never asked Amy to identify if the man was Brian Tate — and in fact, she said he was too far to be seen perfectly — but the implication by the defense seemed to be that it was the “deranged neighbor,” the one they’ve said shot Lisa.
Lorraine Uehling-Techel testified that the morning of the murder, she arrived at the Techel home, where she observed a deputy and Seth talking about a man they spotted peeking around the corner at them from the Tate residence.
Doug Techel was called to stand as well. (Disclosure: Doug Techel is the circulation director for the Ottumwa Courier). He saw Seth punch a fence, then begin to walk in the direction of the Tate property and he had to step in front of Seth to keep him from storming over there.
The prosecution has repeatedly said Tate was not the killer.
Lorraine choked up at one point describing going back to the home when it was released. "We had to get clothing... for Lisa."
She and Doug and Lisa’s mom went to the trailer before the funeral. Lorraine cried on the stand.
"I considered Lisa as close as a daughter. We were all like one big family, we get along with the Caldwell and Davis’s, and we love them.”
But they worried about Seth when police said they wanted to talk to him at the police station.
According to Lorraine, she and her ex-husband Doug talked about whether Seth should wait until he had a lawyer The family had never been involved in anything like this before, she said, but that’s what we see in movies and TV shows. Seth wouldn’t hear of it, she said, quoting him as saying, “I’m going to go talk to them. I have nothing to hide.”
Trial evidence of a relationship with another woman showed he may indeed have had something to hide from his parents — and police.
Doug told the court Lorraine had given him a task which still appeared to elicit a strong emotional reaction from him: Go on ahead of her, Lisa’s mom and Seth to make sure they wouldn’t walk into the house and see something that could cause them more pain than they were already experiencing.
A little while later, other family members arrived. Lorraine went outside, she said, where she cried for a little while. She also noticed the number “2” painted on a tree on the property. It had a piece of plywood on it.
When Doug and Seth Techel came out, she showed them the markings.
“I said, ‘I wonder where tree one would be,’” testified Doug Techel.
They looked around, and approached a tree with an “X” painted on it. His son said authorities really trampled around the property. Doug Techel echoed what a deputy hidden nearby said he heard.
“What would you do if you were on the other side of the badge? You’d do your job,” Doug recalled on the stand.
Another witness was Justin Grodnitzky, a crime lab tech with a degree in chemistry, a Master's in toxicology and a Ph.D. in physiology. Gardner had many technical questions.
Grodnitzky is also the investigator who took photos at the crime scene. In the past few days, the defense has suggested it was suspicious that the shotgun was suddenly found on the second day. Gardner asked him if the shotgun was easy to see.
Grodnitzky said when they first arrived, it was not easy to see. Even after all the trampling, it would have been easy to miss it, he testified. He watched a clip of the video he’d shot once a pair of deputies had located the alleged murder weapon.
Prosecutors asked Grodnitzky to explain what the numbers on the trees and the rocks meant. He said they were an investigative tool so that if the crime scene needed to be recreated they would be able to place the weapon where it had been before being moved.
In his notes, the numbers have next to them a number of feet, he said. In essence, he agreed with the prosecution, that allows investigators to triangulate and place the location of the gun exactly.
Grodnitzky was, like other investigators, not spared questions about the sandwich. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a Ziplock bag can be seen in crime scene photographs. It was laying in the middle of the porch near the door the defense says was used by the killer. Another investigator testified for the prosecution that the sandwich and a nearby glove next to the door were “irrelevant” to the investigation.
However this time, the attorney did not go through the crime scene photos one at a time, asking the scientist if he saw any sliced bread.
Mr. Grodnitzky, did you fail to recognize there was no bread in the house and that the sandwich bags in the kitchen were Target brand sandwich bags, not Ziplock bags like the one on porch?
Grodnitzky acknowledged that they did not specifically check for bread or badges at the crime scene. But he did not recall seeing any bread similar to that on the sandwich on the porch.
Also on direct examination, he agreed with Gardner that they “never took the sandwich into custody.”
The defense has implied during the trial that investigators had no interest in finding the truth, they just decided Seth, the husband, was the killer. To counter that, the prosecution seems to have asked the same basic question of many witnesses.
Brown has asked several witnesses whether Techel was restrained at any time. The answer has always been that he was not. Today, during cross examination, Brown asked Techel's parents if they were kept from approaching him at the scene of the murder. They were not, they said.
Gardner often attempts to show ways in which investigators didn’t focus much attention on other evidence or suspects, they just wanted to charge Techel, and moments later, the prosecution always asks, "... and no one ever restrained him?"
The judge has notified the Jury that this trial may go into next week.
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