Koepp charged in triple murder
JANESVILLE A year to the day after the worst crime in Rock County history, the sole suspect—James C. Koepp—was charged with the murders of Danyetta Lentz and her two teenage children, Nicole and Scott.
Rock County District Attorney David O’Leary this morning filed three charges of first-degree intentional homicide against Koepp, 48, who is an inmate at Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage.
Koepp was arrested Jan. 17, 2007, five days after Danyetta’s father, Russ Lucht, discovered the bodies in the Lentz family mobile home just south of Janesville. But O’Leary delayed filing murder charges until today.
“At this point, I’m satisfied that we have all (the evidence) that we’re going to have from the criminal investigation,” O’Leary said when asked what he knows now that he didn’t know a month or two ago.
“Our (Wisconsin) crime lab and the crime lab out east have forwarded their reports to our office, and we have had the opportunity to review that information,” the district attorney said.
The next step in the legal process will be Koepp’s initial court appearance at 4 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31. O’Leary anticipates that Koepp will appear by video conference from Columbia Correctional Institution.
Koepp’s attorneys can request a preliminary hearing within 10 days of his initial appearance to determine if there is enough evidence to conclude that he probably committed the crimes.
They can waive the time limit or the hearing altogether.
Further hearings will be scheduled after Koepp’s initial appearance.
On March 30, he was sentenced to four years in prison on convictions for first-degree recklessly endangering safety and third-offense drunken driving. The charges resulted from a chase he led deputies on when he was supposed to be talking to detectives about the Lentz killings.
Many observers think the prison sentence alleviated the case’s sense of urgency for both O’Leary and the crime lab analysts who were in Madison and a lab on the East Coast.
Others think the prison sentence gave the prosecutor and labs time to do thorough tests and review of the massive amount of potential evidence in the case.
His office has a heavy workload, O’Leary said, and December was particularly busy because he and his staff dealt with several high-profile cases in a month whose work days were shortened by the holidays.
O’Leary would not comment further on the case.
In a news release, he cited Supreme Court rules that prohibit a district attorney from making statements to the media outside of court that have a good chance of prejudicing the case.
The bans include statements on “the results of any examination or test or the nature of physical evidence expected to be presented,” according to O’Leary’s news release.
The chronology of events in the worst murder case in Rock County history:
Jan. 12, 2007: Russ Lucht discovers the bodies of his daughter and grandchildren-Danyetta, Nicole and Scott Lentz-in their mobile home in Janesville Terrace, 3315 S. Highway 51, Janesville.
Rock County deputies and detectives seal off the crime scene and call for help from the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory, which sends a mobile crime lab and its own investigators.
Authorities think the Lentzes were murdered the night before.
Jan. 15: Detectives interview James C. Koepp, a neighbor of the Lentzes.
Koepp is a registered sex offender. He served prison time for a 1982 assault in Dane County in which he forced two women at knifepoint to perform sex acts, including intercourse with him.
Jan 16: Koepp is supposed to talk to detectives again. Instead, he leads deputies on a wild car chase that stops only when his vehicle runs over spiked stop sticks and he is confronted by a moving roadblock that hems him in.
When he is stopped, Koepp, extremely upset and crying, tells deputies: "I just wanted to say goodbye to my wife. … I didn't mean to kill anyone. … Why are you worried about a drunk driving when you are pinning three murders on me?" according to a criminal complaint filed against him three days later.
That complaint charged Koepp with knowingly fleeing an officer, first-degree reckless endangerment, third-offense drunken driving and third-offense driving with a prohibited alcohol concentration.
Bond is set at $60,000 cash.
Jan. 17: Sheriff Bob Spoden announces Koepp's arrest on the chase charges and his arrest on suspicion of the triple homicide. District Attorney David O'Leary says he will charge Koepp with the murders a couple of days later.
Jan. 19: O'Leary files the chase charges but balks at filing the murder charges. The DA says he does not yet have enough evidence to prove Koepp's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Spoden sticks to his guns that Koepp is the sole suspect.
Feb. 9: Sheriff's deputies begin collecting DNA samples from other men in Janesville Terrace, sparking speculation that they are looking for another suspect. Cmdr. Tom Gehl explains a couple of weeks later that it's a routine part of the investigation.
Authorities gather the samples in case it's necessary to explain male DNA other than Koepp's in the Lentz home.
Feb. 11: The Janesville Gazette publishes excerpts from Koepp's probation and parole records. His attorneys seek a court order to seal his records.
Feb. 22: Judge Alan Bates rules that the records will remain open.
March 16: Spoden announces the investigation is essentially done. O'Leary says the investigation is not over and he still is awaiting more crime lab reports.
March 30: Koepp pleads guilty to first-degree recklessly endangering safety and third-offense drunken driving in exchange for dismissal of the other two chase charges.
Bates sentences Koepp to four years in prison and five years of extended supervision.
July 12: Koepp's wife, Nancy, files for divorce. She says the reason is that her husband was having an affair with Danyetta, a claim that was suggested earlier by comments of Koepp reported in court documents.
Authorities think Koepp's claim of an affair with Danyetta was a ruse to explain why his DNA was in the Lentz trailer and on Danyetta's body. Her relatives vehemently deny any intimate relationship between Danyetta and Koepp.
Nov. 3: O'Leary remains publicly mum on the case. Spoden remains convinced his detectives arrested the right suspect.
A crime lab somewhere on the East Coast is analyzing a potentially crucial piece of evidence. O'Leary still doesn't have the final report from the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory.
Koepp sits in prison.
Sometime in late November or early December: All lab reports have been sent to Rock County authorities. O'Leary and Spoden meet with Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory officials and analysts to review the reports.
Several high-profile cases consume O'Leary and other staff members' time in a month with fewer work days because of the holidays.
Today, Jan. 11, 2008: One year to the day after the Lentzes were killed, O'Leary charges Koepp with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide. Koepp's initial court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 31.