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March 8, 2013

Neighbor denies involvement in murder

OTTUMWA — Seth Techel's trial on charges of murder and non-consensual termination of a human pregnancy resumed Friday after jurors were given a one-day break in the proceedings.

On Thursday, Judge Daniel Wilson ruled much of what the defense had hoped to introduce to jurors about the health, both physical and mental, of Techel's neighbor inadmissible. The defense has pointed to the neighbor, Brian Tate, as a suspect investigators overlooked in a rush to charge Techel.

Prosecutors had argued the information about Tate would take significant time without saying anything about the Techel's guilt or innocence.

Jurors did hear from Tate through audio of a May 30, 2012 interview Deputy Don Phillips conducted with him. During the interview Tate was directly asked whether he had anything to do with Lisa Techel's death. He said no.

Tate believed the Wapello County Sheriff's Department had not fully followed up on his complaints about vandalism of his property. He had accused Techel of being behind the incidents, a fact confirmed by witnesses earlier in the trial.

"It didn't seem to me like you were investigating much ... I felt like you guys would have been more present in this area," Tate said.

Phillips asked Tate how he kept guard on his property. He said he walked some, but mostly watched to make sure no one was causing trouble. When asked whether he knew if the Techels owned guns, Tate wasn't sure but said he had heard shooting from the property.

The interview also included questions about Tate's own firearms. He said he did have guns, including two shotguns and slugs. The guns were "for defensive purposes only."

"I don't trust people anymore," he explained.

Late in the interview Phillips asked Tate directly, "Did you have anything to do with Lisa's death?"

"No, I did not," Tate replied.

Prosecutor Scott Brown asked about the shotgun shells Tate showed Phillips. They appeared to be old, Phillips said, with faded markings. But they were the same brand and color as those recovered with what authorities believe was the murder weapon.

Defense attorney Steven Gardner focused on Phillips' interactions with Tate. During the interview, Tate invited Phillips to call neighbors to ask whether he had ever been a problem. But the previous day, Gardner said, Phillips had received a call from one neighbor saying Tate had called to talk to him about their relationship.

When asked about Tate's comment that he was ready if "someone started shooting" at him or his house, Phillips conceded Tate seemed paranoid.

The defense indicated Thursday it will call three more witnesses. It is not clear whether that includes Techel himself. Prosecutors have not said how many rebuttal witnesses it plans to call, if any.

Jurors could hear closing arguments and get the case as soon as Monday.

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The Iowegian wants readers to think about the solicitation ordinance that will prevent groups or individuals from entering a roadway to solicit money. The Centerville City Council in June by a 5-0 vote passed the first reading of just such an ordinance. Public pressure and during a subsequent special meeting, the council voted 3-2 to table the ordinance. A second special meeting to discuss the solicitation ordinance is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 7 at City Hall. So, the question of the week is, "Do you or do you not support the ordinance to prevent solicitation of funds in city streets?"

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