By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A Janesville sex offender was properly convicted of killing his neighbor and her two teenage children, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.
A jury convicted James Koepp in 2010 of stabbing and strangling 38-year-old Danyetta Lentz, her 17-year-old daughter, Nicole, and her 14-year-old son, Scott, in the family’s trailer home. Prosecutors theorized Koepp killed Lentz to cover up an affair and killed the children because they witnessed the murder.
Rock County Circuit Judge Alan R. Bates sentenced Koepp to three consecutive life terms with no possibility of parole.
Koepp, now 53, argued on appeal that Bates should have allowed him to introduce evidence suggesting someone else committed the slayings.
Koepp wanted to introduce testimony from Nicole’s boyfriend that Nicole told him she overheard her mother arguing the weekend before the killings with an unknown man outside the trailer. The man had brought her home but Lentz refused to have sex with him. Koepp also wanted to introduce testimony from one of Scott’s classmates that Scott told her Lentz’s ex-boyfriend had been bothering her.
The 4th District Court of Appeals ruled Bates was within his authority to exclude the testimony. The three-judge panel said nothing indicates any violence resulted from the argument over sex, making it difficult to conclude the man would return and kill Lentz or her children, and nothing shows the ex-boyfriend ever threatened her or had an opportunity to commit the slayings.
Koepp’s attorney, Dianne M. Erickson, declined comment.
Lentz’s father, Russell Lucht, found his daughter and grandchildren’s bodies in their trailer on the outskirts of Janesville in January 2007. All three had been strangled and stabbed multiple times. Scott’s room had been ransacked and the trailer was splattered with blood.
Detectives focused on Koepp, who lived kitty-corner to the Lentzes in the same trailer park. He tried to flee the state four days after the slayings, leading sheriff’s deputies on a high-speed chase. He was charged in the Lentzes’ deaths while serving four years in prison for the chase.
Forensic analysts testified during Koepp’s trial that his DNA was found under Lentz and Nicole’s fingernails and DNA from blood on Koepp’s clothing matched all three victims.
Koepp initially told investigators he didn’t know the family. He later changed his story, saying he went to the trailer to talk to Lentz about their affair the night of the killings.
Koepp’s trial attorney, Walter Isaacson, told Bates Koepp deserved mercy because he had bipolar disorder and grew up with an abusive stepfather. District Attorney David O’Leary countered that Koepp had a long criminal history, including home invasions, burglary, car theft and sexually assaulting two women in a substance abuse center.