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February 28, 2013

Ottumwa murder trial focuses on autopsy

OTTUMWA — Seth Techel's murder trial resumed Thursday with prosecutors focused on Lisa Techel's autopsy.

Dr. Julia Goodin, the state's chief medical examiner, conducted the autopsy. She was called both to provide evidence and to undermine earlier defense points.

The defense has repeatedly pointed to witness testimony that Lisa's body was still warm when first responders arrived at the Techel house. The implication from the defense is that such condition indicates Seth Techel quickly called 9-1-1 after she was shot.

Prosecutors contend Techel's call was nowhere near as fast as the defense says. In opening arguments prosecutor Andy Prosser said he waited 18 minutes before calling for help.

When asked whether a body's temperature allows examiners to establish a precise time of death, Goodin replied "absolutely not."

"While we would like to be able to say exactly when a person died, and they can do that on television, we really can't do that," she said.

The point was important enough for defense attorney Steven Gardner to return to it during his cross examination.

"Did you make a determination on the time of death?" he asked. Goodin said no.

"Did you attempt to make a determination?" he asked. Goodin again said she did not.

Goodin's testimony was preceded by a cautionary comment from Judge Daniel Wilson. He warned the people in the audience the testimony would be graphic and urged people to leave the courtroom if they felt the need to do so.

"There's not a problem, it's not going to disrupt anything," he said.

The slug that killed Lisa Techel entered directly under her armpit. Goodin said the fragments went through her lung and a major artery. She said the angle of the wound is consistent with the shot being fired from the foot of the bed as she slept.

Death, Goodin said, came quickly, "probably within minutes, but we can never be certain of that."

Prosecutors followed Goodin's testimony by calling Bryan Baum, a reserve deputy who was ordered to watch the Techel property after family was allowed to return. He wore a camouflage suit to hide his presence.

After returning to the property, Techel entered the yard with his father, Doug Techel. (Disclosure: Doug Techel is the Courier's circulation director.) They went to a tree near where the shotgun that killed Lisa Techel was found.

"As it moved closer you could start to make out what they said. As they came to the location where the gun was found I saw Seth Techel come to the tree and lean against the tree with his arm. He continued the conversation with his father," Baum said.

Baum testified Techel told his father, "They seemed to walk around here a lot," after they reached the tree. Doug Techel responded that that was the job for the investigators.

"From the tree he walked a couple steps around into the grass," Baum said.

Prosecutors contend it was not an accident Techel went to the location the gun was found. The defense argued previously he was drawn to a painted "X" on the tree. Gardner asked Baum if that was indeed the tree Techel approached, which Baum confirmed.

Additional testimony in the morning came from Lucas Howell, who lived with Seth and Lisa Techel prior to her death. Howell was the owner of the shotgun used in the killing.

Howell testified both he and Seth Techel had used the gun previously, and that the gun remained at the Techel home after he moved out to have shoulder surgery.

 

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