Prosecutors will argue next month that Jeffrey Lepsch killed a La Crosse camera store owner and his son in a robbery motivated in part by his need to pay off debts from a 2003 theft conviction.

Lepsch, a 40-year-old photographer and stay-at-home father, is scheduled to stand trial July 23 on charges of first-degree homicide and armed robbery in the Sept. 15 shooting deaths of Paul and A.J. Petras inside May’s Photo.

District Attorney Tim Gruenke told a judge Friday he planned to introduce a $58,860 judgment levied against Lepsch in 2012 for unpaid restitution as a possible motive for the robbery.

Gruenke also told the judge that Lepsch’s DNA was not found inside the store, though court documents indicate he did leave behind a palm print.

Lepsch’s attorneys agreed that jurors could hear of his prior conviction but that they would stipulate it was for a property crime.

In 2003, Lepsch was accused of stealing $100,000 worth of merchandise from the Ace Hardware distribution center on French Island, where he worked in loss prevention. He pleaded no contest to felony theft and was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay more than $66,000, according to court records.

But nine years later he had paid only about $7,500 and told a judge he had struggled to heat his home since hurting his back and being unable to work.

Paul Petras, 59, and his 19-year-old son, A.J. Petras, were found dead inside the store after they did not come home after work.

According to the criminal complaint, video gathered from neighboring businesses showed a man in a hooded sweatshirt enter the store just before closing time and leave about an hour later, driving away in a blue minivan with an upside down trailer hitch.

Investigators later found a matching van at Lepsch’s Dakota residence, where they also found more than a dozen cameras, lenses and flashes taken from May’s, according to the complaint.

Lepsch, who denies a role in the killings, has been held in the La Crosse County jail on a $2 million bond since Oct. 18. He attended Friday’s hearing but did not speak.

Judge Ramona Gonzalez ruled that defense attorneys cannot introduce portions of a 2009 report published by the National Academy of Sciences, which calls into question the reliability of latent fingerprint analysis, as an authoritative text.

Among the hundreds of latent prints found in the camera store, only one palm print belonged to Lepsch, according to the defense motion.

Lepsch’s attorneys withdrew a motion filed last month seeking to throw out the case on the grounds that police lost or destroyed video evidence from that might exculpate him.

The state countered that the video in question was never available because portions were written over before it was given to police.


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