There is no physical or forensic evidence linking Eric Koula to a crime that he didn’t have the motive or opportunity to commit, his attorney told jurors Tuesday.
But Koula, on trial for the shooting deaths of his parents, will testify that he fabricated a note that claimed to frame him for the homicides, attorney Jim Koby said in his opening statement.
He admits to writing “fixed you” on a piece of paper and slipping it in his mailbox the week after his parents died because he was upset investigators had questioned his young son in the case.
“He’s going to tell you it was stupid,” Koby said.
The judge delayed the trial in April in part because the defense needed its expert to examine five unidentified fingerprints found on the note.
Koula reported the letter to authorities and pretended to be so terrified by the threat that he couldn’t walk straight when they came to pick it up.
Dennis and Merna Koula were shot to death in their town of Barre house May 21, 2010.
Koula also will testify during his 20-day trial in La Crosse County Circuit Court that he signed a $50,000 check drawn from Dennis Koula’s investment account with his father’s permission and deposited it the day after the homicides, Koby said.
That testimony will contradict Koula’s statement to investigators that his father handed him a signed blank check about 4 p.m. May 20 while his father was replacing deck boards.
“Dennis said, ‘I love you son’ and Eric said, ‘I love you dad’ and that was the last time he saw his dad alive,” Koby said.
Authorities accuse Koula, 42, of forging the check, and a state Crime Laboratory analyst will testify he wrote Dennis Koula’s signature slowly and with hesitation, La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke said.
Prosecutors argue Koula, a “man of secrets” overwhelmed by growing credit card debt, back taxes and a flagging day trading career, shot his parents to claim the inheritance.
He had less than $2,000 in his day trading account, $1,300 in his bank account, owed $40,000 to the IRS and was $50,000 in credit card debt in May 2010, Gruenke said.
“He was telling everyone he was doing fine,” Gruenke said.
Dennis Koula told his brother and a co-worker days before his death that he no longer planned to support his children financially, Gruenke said.
Koby told jurors that Eric Koula was current on his bills, had money in his bank account and a $100,000 line of credit available on his house.
“The bottom line is there is no motive surrounding desperation,” Koby said.
On Tuesday, jurors toured the crime scene at N3071 Fox Hollow Drive, where Koula called 911 at 8:47 a.m. May 24 after his mother failed to show for work.
Koula doesn’t mention the pools of blood circling their bodies or correct a dispatcher who suggests a gas leak killed them in the 911 recording played for the jury Tuesday.
“He does not ask for help to come to the house,” Gruenke said.
There were no signs of forced entry and no valuables, including electronics, gold coins and a purse, taken from the upscale house. Dresser drawers were open to the same length and the contents were undisturbed.
Investigators believe Merna Koula, 65, died at 5:41 p.m. when her computer recorded its last keystroke and her 68-year-old husband was killed minutes later when he arrived home after a shift at a Black River Falls pharmacy.
Both were shot in the head.
Markings left on .22 caliber bullet fragments recovered from Dennis Koula are consistent with a rifle authorities recovered from an upstairs closet in his home and another owned by Eric Koula.
But no state witness can testify either firearm was positively the weapon used to kill the Koulas, Koby said in his opening statement.
At least one professional killer and possibly two using different handguns executed Dennis and Merna Koula based on bullet fragments recovered during autopsy, Koby said.
Fibers extracted during autopsy are consistent with a silencer, Koby said.
A neighbor had been receiving threats for at least a month before the killings, though he did not report it until after the bodies were found. The last threat came the night before Dennis and Merna Koula were killed, when an unknown caller told the neighbor “you’re toast,” Koby said.
“I think they got the wrong house,” the neighbor told authorities, according to Koby.
Witnesses also saw a suspicious car in a restaurant parking lot and two men in a pickup truck near the Koulas’ house in the days leading up to their deaths, Koby said.
Koula has said he has an alibi — that he was helping a friend tile and later went shopping for an anniversary present for his wife.
Prosecutors say Koula still had enough time to kill his parents and arrive at the Shopko in Onalaska in time to get a receipt for a 6:15 p.m. purchase.
His attorneys dispute when Dennis and Merna Koula died, saying a neighbor saw the couple by their garage about 8 p.m. May 21. The man will testify he observed them after he bought wax for his truck at 7:30 p.m.
Koula’s trial continues at 8:45 a.m. today. More than 80 witnesses are expected to testify.