The Minnesota man on trial for fatally shooting a father and son at a downtown La Crosse photo store and robbing the business is “a thief and not a killer,” his attorneys told jurors Wednesday.
But Assistant State Public Defender Vincent Rust didn’t disclose how Jeffrey Lepsch wound up with 14 items stolen from May’s Photo in his Dakota house weeks after store owner Paul Petras and his son A.J. were executed in the Main Street shop on Sept. 15.
“The evidence in this case will show that he’s a family man. He’s not violent. He has light hair. The suspect has dark hair,” Rust said. “There is no physical evidence that Jeff had anything to do with the Petrases.”
Prosecutors argue the unemployed hobby photographer who couldn’t afford his mortgage or electric bill killed the men before casually leaving the business on a busy and unusually warm September afternoon with 27 cameras, lenses and other merchandise worth about $17,000.
His attorneys did not say whether Lepsch, dressed Wednesday for his trial in a blue oxford shirt and light khakis, would testify. His mother and wife will.
Rust, one of three of Lepsch’s attorneys who revealed little about their case until the trial opened, told jurors that unidentified DNA recovered from the victim’s fingertips excludes Lepsch.
“Mr. Lepsch’s DNA isn’t at the crime scene,” he added.
On the afternoon of the killings, Lepsch was at his parent’s house in La Crescent with his wife and children and Best Buy in Onalaska, where he picked up a soda and memory card at 3:35 p.m., Rust said.
He criticized police for neglecting to interview the cashier, who would have been the first person to see him after the homicides. Rust also accused police of losing “important evidence” and other authorities of “incorrect, questionable and faulty forensic procedures” in the wake of a crime that rattled the community.
See Thursday’s Tribune or www.lacrossetribune.com for more on this story.