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Extradition hearing in La Crosse homicides

Investigators talk Sept. 16 outside May's Photo on Main Street in La Crosse as they collect evidence in the shooting deaths of store owner Paul Petras and his 19-year-old son, A.J. A 39-year-old Minnesota man will be in court Thursday for an extradition hearing. (AP Photo/The La Crosse Tribune, Chris Hubbuch)

LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) – A Minnesota man charged with killing a father and son at their La Crosse photography store stole $16,000 in camera equipment, police said Thursday.

Prosecutors have charged 39-year-old Jeffrey Lepsch, of Dakota, Minn., with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide, one count of armed robbery and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was expected to appear at an extradition hearing in Winona County District Court later Thursday.

Investigators believe Lepsch walked into the downtown La Crosse shop and killed 56-year-old Paul Petras and his 19-year-old son, A.J. Petras.

La Crosse Police Chief Ron Tischer told reporters at a news conference Thursday the elder Petras was found in the shop’s bathroom and his son was found in front of an open safe. Another safe in the shop had been shot twice but wasn’t opened, Tischer said. The gunman used a .22 caliber pistol, Tischer said.

Surveillance video from surrounding businesses showed a man in a hooded sweatshirt and carrying a backpack enter the shop and walk out with four bags. He climbed into a blue van and drove off.

Police eventually traced the van to Lepsch’s home in Dakota, where they found 14 pieces of stolen equipment from the Petras’ shop, Tischer said. Lepsch ran an online camera equipment business, the chief said.

Online court records show Lepsch was sentenced to a year in jail in 2004 on a felony theft charge. The La Crosse Tribune reported that Lepsch admitted to stealing about $8,000 worth of merchandise in 2003 when he worked in loss prevention at Ace Hardware’s distribution center on French Island.

Online court records didn’t show an attorney for Lepsch in the homicide case. His attorney in the theft case, James Kroner Jr., didn’t immediately respond to a phone message Thursday seeking comment.

Information from: La Crosse Tribune, http://www.lacrossetribune.com

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