MT. PLEASANT — After a full day, the jury in the retrial of Seth Techel has been narrowed down from about 80 to 70.
Some of the questioning of jurors went faster in Mt. Pleasant than in the original trial. Not a single potential juror in Henry County claimed to know Seth Techel or his family, or Lisa Caldwell Techel and the Caldwell family. That’s a change from the Wapello County situation, where several people were acquainted with the families: Lisa’s father, Todd Caldwell, is a longtime deputy in Wapello County. Seth Techel’s parents own one of the two bowling alleys in Ottumwa.
Seth Techel, 23, of Agency, has been charged with first-degree murder and non-consensual termination of a human pregnancy in the shooting death of his pregnant wife, Lisa Caldwell Techel, at their rural Agency home in May 2012.
The retrial started Monday in Henry County after a jury in Wapello County was unable to come up with a unanimous verdict. That first trial lasted about a month. Techel has remained incarcerated since his arrest, which took place about a week after the shooting.
Both prosecution and defense had agreed that intense media coverage in Wapello County meant this second trial would have to be held elsewhere. Henry County is about an hour from Ottumwa. The distance seems to have made some difference: Reactions from individuals conducting other business at the Henry County Courthouse may help illustrate the difference the change in venue has made. At three different times, someone asked a deputy or clerk whether there was "some sort of trial" starting today.
Inside the courtroom, Judge Dan Wilson told the jury pool that the lawyers would be allowed to ask the jury questions.
It’s an important part of the trial, said state prosecutor Andy Prosser. He said this is his only chance to talk to them as individuals. If they are in the same hallway as him, he’s not going to talk to them. In fact, he said, if he sees a juror on the elevator, he’s going to take the next elevator.
"This questioning is designed to allow the attorneys to seat an impartial jury,” said Judge Dan Wilson to the pool of potential jurors.
First, Prosser wanted to know if anyone knew him or his co-counsel, Scott Brown. Have any of you met or known: Sheriffs Kirkendall or Miller? Deputy Josh Stevens? Deputies Wonderlin or Phillips? How about our witness from the cell phone company? There were a few responses when a name matched up with an old boyfriend or schoolmate, though the jurors weren’t sure if it was the same person in at least two cases.
Prosser also wanted to know if anyone heard about the case. Of those present, 90 percent said they’d never read or seen anything about the shooting or the first trial. But there were six people who said they had, and that they had already formed an opinion.
The judge interviewed and dismissed those six. With a few released for personal reasons (illness, for example) the pool was reduced to about 70 possible jurors.
Jury selection will continue today.
To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark