Lepsch trial: A look at the evidence - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Lepsch trial: A look at the evidence

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LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW)-- It was September 15, 2012, just before 5:30 PM, when Sheri Petras went to May's Photo to check on her son, A.J. and husband, Paul, after they didn't come home from work. Inside the shop she found her son and husband dead.

A.J. was shot once in the head near the stores two safes, Paul once in the head and once in the neck inside the bathroom, the latch on the door was broken.

Police launched an exhaustive and collaborative investigation, collecting hours of video and information from more than 150 area business.

"Sometimes it took, 3, 4, 5 days, we had video rolling in for almost a week and a half, that we initially requested and as we started developing some video, it told us we needed to go ask for more video in a different area or maybe down a different street," said Cpt. Jason Melby, back in October. "So the canvas for video was an ongoing process that developed over the course of the investigation."

According to police, surveillance footage from Azara Hookah Shop shows a blue dodge van outside May's Photo the day of the murders. The van has a trailer hitch, a distinguishing mark, and on October 10, police arrested then 39-year-old Jeffrey Lepsch of Dakota Minnesota, after spotting a similar van in his driveway.

"A male subject exited the van, wearing a gray sweatshirt with a hood over his head carrying a backpack at 1:52 PM, he enters he business at 1:53 PM, the same subject then exits the business at 2:58 PM carrying four backs including the backpack filled with unknown items," said La Crosse Police Chief Ron Tischer, shortly after the arrest.

What the video doesn't show is a clear picture of the subject's face.

At a preliminary hearing, investigators testified more than  $16,000 worth of camera gear was taken from May's and they recovered some items stolen from May's at the suspects home with serial numbers matching missing items.

The Prosecution plans to argue money was the motive in the killings of Paul and A.J. Petras.

Proving motive is not legally required for a conviction, but Joe Veenstra, an attorney not affiliated with the case, says most jurors don't just want to know what happened, they want to know why.

"They want to have some story of, why did this person do this? And I think a jury likes to know that too," Veenstra said. "It's true on both sides, really. They like to have a narrative that a jury might really think is true. They don't just like a random assortment of facts that seem to point to one person."

Police say one safe in May's was open, another was locked but had two bullet holes in the front of it.

According to court records, Lepsch owed restitution stemming from a 2003 felony conviction for stealing in excess of $60,000 worth of items from Ace Hardware. Investigators say  Lepsch was broke at the time of his arrest.

"There are either 8 or 9 accounts, in Jeffrey's name or his wife's name, three of those accounts are children, which are all under the amount of $1, and then there's $136 account which is in the negative," Lt. Matt Malott.

The defense hasn't revealed exactly what their alternate theory of the crime is, but one defense motion cites statements from a witness, who told police he saw a man with dark hair, in a gray sweatshirt without a hood, inside May's photo at 4:30 the day of the shootings.

According to the criminal complaint, Lepsch denies he was in May's photo that day and says he went to Best Buy and spent the rest of the day with his family.

The trial begins Tuesday with jury selection. Opening arguments are expected Wednesday. Follow @wxow on Twitter for the latest. News 19 will also live stream the trial beginning Wednesday at wxow.com/live.

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