Koula sentence: Life in prison

Judge: Jury got it right; offers no chance at release
2012-08-16T00:00:00Z 2012-08-16T06:29:45Z Koula sentence: Life in prisonBy Chris Hubbuch | chubbuch@lacrossetribune.com La Crosse Tribune

Eric Koula vowed to continue looking for whomever killed his parents, even as a judge sentenced him Wednesday to life in prison for their murders.

La Crosse County Circuit Judge Scott Horne’s sentence — two consecutive life sentences with no possibility of release — means the 42-year-old West Salem man will spend the rest of his days behind bars, unless his conviction is overturned on appeal.

“You took the life of the two people who gave you life,” Horne said. “And you’ll spend the rest of your life incarcerated.”

Koula, who has been in the La Crosse County Jail since July 29, 2010, will be turned over to the Department of Corrections. He will go first to the Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun, where all male inmates begin their sentences.

Horne pointed out that Koula had a “magnificent defense” by four talented attorneys and a retired police investigator, while the state had to meet a high standard of proof. A jury deliberated for two and a half days in June after one of the longest trials in the county’s history. The verdict: guilty on two counts of first-degree homicide.

“Frankly, I think the jury got it right,” Horne said.

Horne noted that Koula had a motive — he was a struggling day trader with just enough money left to pay that month’s bills — access to the type of weapon used and the chance to kill Dennis and Merna Koula in their town of Barre home on May 21, 2010.

Eric Koula dialed 911 three days later to report finding the couple, both shot in the head.

Horne dismissed the defense’s theory it was a botched hit intended for a neighbor.

“No other person had the means, the motive and the opportunity,” Horne said. “The idea that a skilled, professional hit man would venture into the wrong house is really stretching the imagination.”

Horne pointed to lies Koula told throughout the investigation: He denied forging a $50,000 check from his parents’ account, though his attorneys argued at trial he signed it with his father’s permission; he wrote “fixed u” on a piece of paper and pretended it was from the killer.

The judge also sentenced Koula to three years behind bars for forgery, to be served on top of the life sentences.

Koula gave himself away in the first days of the investigation, Horne said, even as investigators treated him as a grieving family member. The question is whether he was merely a liar, or a liar who could kill his own parents and feign grief.

“I think when you wrote the ‘fixed u’ note, when you pretended to family and police and friends that the killer was now after you … when you sold that lie it became apparent to me … that you were capable of that,” Horne said. “That was a masterful act of deception.”

‘Not giving up’

Koula sat in shackles and a blue jail uniform surrounded by his team of attorneys in a courtroom packed with more than 50 people, including investigators, family members and media.

A cameraman filmed the proceedings from the jury box for the CBS show “48 Hours”.

“From May 24, 2010, until today I’ve went over and over in my mind of how I found my parents,” Koula told the judge. “Every day I miss them just as much — if not more — than anyone else. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss them.”

As he did during his 3½-week jury trial, Koula insisted on his innocence.

“I did not kill my mom and dad,” Koula said. “I never thought of doing something like that to them.”

The real killer, Koula said, is still at large.

“I’m not giving up,” Koula said. “I’m going to fight and fight and bring this person or people forward that did this, because I did not. I’m going to do this for my family. I pray that I’ll be able to go home and be with them some day.”

Plea for justice

District Attorney Tim Gruenke described Koula as a selfish and manipulative person who carried out a planned and cold-blooded killing for money.

“He only cared about what he wanted,” he said. “He wanted money.”

Eric Koula’s sister spoke on the victims’ behalf.

Choking back tears, Cynthia Cowell described her parents as honest people who worked hard and enjoyed life. Her mother loved Christmas; her father, who grew up poor, didn’t but learned to fake it for his grandchildren.

A pharmacist, Dennis Koula was a fount of medical knowledge who taught her to play sports, Cowell said. Merna Koula, a school teacher, could tell her the name of every bird and flower in the tri-state area.

“Now if I want to know something I have to go on the Internet,” she said. “It’s not the same. It’s not personal.”

She said her father often told her life is not fair. If it were, she’d have her parents back.

“Life is not fair,” she said. “All I can ask for is justice.”

‘It just doesn’t make sense’

Defense attorney James Koby said he’d known Eric Koula for most of his adult life and was shocked when he received a call from Christine Koula saying her husband had been arrested for their murders.

“I know the relationship Eric had with his father,” Koby said.

The first words Koula said to Koby: I didn’t kill my mom and dad. He said the same thing after the verdict was read.

In the intervening two years, Koby said, his team spent thousands of hours tracking down leads from Florida, Alaska, Pennsylvania and California — “all to protect the rights of an innocent man.”

He vowed to continue his investigation and invited information “from anyone, anywhere — no matter how insignificant it seems.”

After the sentence was read, Koula was comforted by his attorneys. Later, Koby said Koula’s first words were “We’re going to keep fighting.”

Before being led away, Koula turned to his wife and his 18-year-old son, Dexter, who sat in the front row.

His chin trembled as he held his son’s hand and received a hug from his wife, who left the courtroom without comment.

Cowell, who did not look at her brother as he addressed the judge, said afterward, “Nothing is going to bring Mom and Dad back. But justice has been served.”

Cowell said she hasn’t spoken to her brother since his arrest.

“I don’t know what I’d say to him, except ‘why?’” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Copyright 2015 La Crosse Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(28) Comments

  1. Wv Steve
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    Wv Steve - August 04, 2013 7:48 am
    I have read through most of the comments. I would like to add to the one who are defending him. He just stole 50,000 dollars from his parents. He withheld evidence, he planted evidence, he lied to investigators. Eric kept talking about how much he loved his parents. You don't steal 50,000 dollars from those that you love.
  2. LadyG
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    LadyG - August 21, 2012 10:56 pm
    Lets just hope that we never need one of those attorneys, laxcitizen. Ever been accused of anything? I really think this crime is a very scarey one. Atrocious for everyone.
  3. laxcitizen
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    laxcitizen - August 17, 2012 9:55 pm
    the attorneys should be ashamed...yes, people say 'it's their job'...and it IS if the attorney truly believes his client, and can go 100% effort in defense. If not, they are as disgusting as the accused, and convicted. Don't tell me, these attorneys, I am going to presume, with some smarts...considering the schooling/testing that needs to be done...these attorneys did not believe the accused. Shame on you for defending a guilty person. How can you sleep at night...? Kids doing ok since the verdict? family still respected? Can't even imagine the turmoil the attorneys create for themselves if they can't do what is right.
  4. laxcitizen
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    laxcitizen - August 17, 2012 9:33 pm
    agree with you regarding Miss Animal...where do these people come from? How do they think? I don't get it, and I can't waste my time trying to figure her out. Where How and Why did you miss all the evidence...apparently you were far removed from the trial.
  5. perkred
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    perkred - August 17, 2012 1:02 pm
    we can all get along-just NOT with someone that kills his parents for nothing but money--he was terrible at what he did and his parents bailed him out time after time--when the money got shut off---the guns went off--I don't think Eric will ever live up to what he did--Miss Animal--well-you think like an animal--not well !! no evidence ?? are you kiddin me ?? this is why people like you should NEVER be on a jury
  6. Seriously Now
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    Seriously Now - August 16, 2012 10:13 pm
    Eric Koula vowed to continue looking for whomever killed his parents, right along with OJ.
  7. Oh I Get It
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    Oh I Get It - August 16, 2012 6:35 pm
    EXACTLY, Max!!!
  8. Responsible_Owner
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    Responsible_Owner - August 16, 2012 2:12 pm
    Just need motive like we all have motive when we need to get groceries or gasoline and thus all thefts we are all guilty of...

    What a joke society has become!!! We all are condemned!!!
  9. Responsible_Owner
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    Responsible_Owner - August 16, 2012 2:11 pm
    Fubar, unless you were in his pocket when he did it you can not say with 100% certainty that he did it! Plain and simple. you are going off of what you heard and nobody but Eric knows what really happened whether he did it or not.

    End of story.
  10. Maxamillion
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    Maxamillion - August 16, 2012 1:31 pm
    No one else lied to investigators repeatedly (yes, we all probably have lied, but not to investigators trying to solve our parents’ murder), no one else forged a check and lied repeatedly about it and only came clean when he know it was going to be proven it was a forgery, no one else planted false evidence and only came clean when it would have been proved the envelope and letter came from his house. His friend changed times when Eric left the house from grouting, he’s not on the video at Shopko and he had the MOST to gain from their deaths. He’s a really bad actor & had no other source of income besides his parent's money & getting lucky day trading occasionally. I saw more grief from his sister yesterday than him the whole time. But I’m glad he lied and planted false evidence because without it, he may have been found not guilty. I do feel sorry for his wife & children and I wish he would come clean so that can move forward with their lives.
  11. FUBAR
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    FUBAR - August 16, 2012 1:03 pm
    LOL....Very sad. I don't have Eric "hung" for this. The court system and the Jury do. I don't have biased comments either. Facts are facts. He did it and the jury got it correct. Not another person in this case did what this guy did. No one else in this case held their family hostage for 2 years with a "fixed u" not. Nobody else in this case had a forged check. I know you are probably somehow close to this on Eric's or his wife's side and that's OK. Believe what you want. But remember my opinion does not matter nor does yours. He was found guilty, and I agree with it.
  12. regnils9191
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    regnils9191 - August 16, 2012 1:02 pm
    Good point FUBAR. You do not need a video taped confession or an eye witness to get convicted of a crime!
  13. Responsible_Owner
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    Responsible_Owner - August 16, 2012 12:51 pm
    Can't we all just get along?!

    Can't we all stop judging everyone to include Eric?!

    Can't this just be put to rest?! The family has been through enough. That is unless the sister and her husband are the ones drumming these comments up!
  14. regnils9191
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    regnils9191 - August 16, 2012 12:50 pm
    What motive would a door-to-door salesman have? The person with the MOST movtive and the WEAKEST alibi was convicted....case closed!!!
  15. Responsible_Owner
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    Responsible_Owner - August 16, 2012 12:48 pm
    I agree with you Miss Animal, however the arm chair lawyers and judges who read these comments and have Eric hung for this crime will only keep feeding that belief.

    Only those with open minds can possibly see this. Only those who are not quick to condemn someone will see this.

    Lets leave these comments to those, and no I am not going to call them trolls as it takes a troll to know a troll and if one calls one a troll they too must be one. Just as those calling him guilty must also be guilty?! Lets leave these comments and severly biased remarks to themselves so they can gloat in their science fiction minds, fairy tale worlds where everyone is guilty based on motive... I need to get gasoline for my car, that being motive, does that mean I do every drive off from service stations? NO it doesn't but you know Fubar and h99 and Nugget and ALH have me doing life sentences for the motive alone....
  16. regnils9191
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    regnils9191 - August 16, 2012 12:47 pm
    If Koula is still looking for the killer he could save himself sometime by just looking in a mirror!
  17. Responsible_Owner
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    Responsible_Owner - August 16, 2012 12:43 pm
    If you knew or know the family, there is nothing for him to claim...

    I did not miss the trial. I caught more than the average but less than those wonderful jurors.

    Proven guilty in a court of law based on motive alone? Research that and tell us all how many times motive alone has been used to convict!? Sure there were lies, however, who has not lied in their lifetime? Sure it wasn't the best time to do it for Eric... As I have said before you can get any 12 individuals together from any walk of life and have one strong willed person in the group will get all 12 to come to the same conclusion. Like I could get 12 individuals together and convict you of taking a candy bar at some time or another in your life.

    As far as fighting it, if you were innocent wouldn't you keep fighting it? Or would you accept it? Give you the death penalty or 2 life sentences away from your family.

  18. FUBAR
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    FUBAR - August 16, 2012 12:32 pm
    So since there is NO evidence that ANYONE did it or that ANYONE else was in that house the Koula's must of died from natural causes? I am SOOOOOO glad you are not a judge,cop, or jurror because everyone could get away with crimes if there was not some CSI DNA evidence at the scene. Motive, means and opportunity is absolutely more important then a fingerprint. The LACK of Eric's DNA in the very house he said he was at the night before is telling in itself. The lack of Eric's DNA evidence upstairs in a closet that he said he was helping his mom put clothes away in is very telling. Him saying he was "covered" in grout and then driving the very grout filled truck in his nice clothes to dinner. Very simple, if your parents end up killed, during the investigation do not lie to the cops, write yourself a "fixed u" note, have friends change their stories and make sure when you say you went to a store and you didn't, make sure they don't have any video cameras. OOOOPS almost forgot, don't forge a check from your dad's account on the very day he died of "natural causes" or from a hitman at the wrong address.
  19. spirit3
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    spirit3 - August 16, 2012 12:20 pm
    People always say they are surprised by a verdict. I have the deepest sympathy for his family and his sister who he tried to blame for the crime. Having said that just think of the times people have said they thought they knew a person who they entrusted with a child and some of the pedophile crimes. The person who perpetuated the crime are often of the same mentality. Eric, duped everyone, he left no stone un-turned in his manipulations. I feel the sentence was a justly handed down in Wisconsin as he could have gotten, but if it was possible this is a person who should have gotten the death sentence, then his family could grieve and move forward with life. They cannot as long as he is living, this tragedy will live with them for years.
  20. Miss Animal
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    Miss Animal - August 16, 2012 11:59 am
    This is NOT justice. With lack of any evidence provided, a door-to-door salesman that was had been walking through the neighborhood that afternoon, minding his own business, would have been convicted of the murders. In fact I'm surprised, one of his neighbors was charged just for sharing a property line, just for the fact they were close to the crime scene.

    Yes, Eric does not appear to represent the best of humanity, and Yes there is a possibility he did it. But there is NO PROOF, NO evidence of any kind to link him to the crime scene.

  21. mypeeps
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    mypeeps - August 16, 2012 11:34 am
    My thoughts go out to the whole Koula family, his sister who has lost both parents and a brother, his wife who has lost a husband and especially his children who have basically lost everyone in their lives except for their mom and each other. I was really hoping that Eric would be found not guilty of the charges, not because I wanted him to get off if he was the killer but because I thought he wasn't. I obviously wasn't in court to hear ALL of the evidence, testimony, etc... but from what I did hear, I don't know that I believe he was guilty. Either way, nobody wins in this situation and it's sad that 2 wonderful people's lives have been taken in such a cold blooded way. I've said it before and will say it again. If indeed Eric did commit the murders, life without the chance of getting out would be the correct punishment, however, if he didn't commit the murders, there is a killer among us.
  22. wack
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    wack - August 16, 2012 11:20 am
    Denial of what a person is actual capable of doing is sad. What this man did to his son and wife is digusting. People would not be so unforgiving of people who commit these crimes if they would only be man enough to say, "you know what? I did this and I am sorry." It is really a sign of the times that no one is capable of doing the "right" thing any more, including the the defense team . Who is paying for this trial? I am sure not........ Eric Koula.
  23. ALH
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    ALH - August 16, 2012 10:43 am
    @Responsible_Owner: You must have missed the trial, Sir. He was PROVEN guilty in a court of law and has been sentenced accordingly. Of course he'll "keep fighting" to avoid paying the penalty for his crime and to claim his inheritance.
  24. Justacitizen
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    Justacitizen - August 16, 2012 10:42 am
    If Eric had not lied all of those times, he might have had an entirely different result. But what innocent son would do anything to throw off the investigation of his own parents murders? 'Nuff said. A tragedy for everyone involved. My heart goes out to the entire family, except Eric. He is where he belongs, behind bars.
  25. FUBAR
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    FUBAR - August 16, 2012 10:01 am
    Wow, you must be his wife or son. Becasue he seemed to be the ONLY one making up stories and continued to lie all the way up to the first day of court. No one else envolved in this case seemed to have a FORGED check nor wrote themselves a "fixed U" note. I would be willing to bet that the other people in the case where not "missed" on a Shopko camera. This guy had the OJ defense team for this area and their "defense" was a hitman at the wrong house and the Outlaw biker gang. With those 2 defenses it shows they had NO one else to blame. He did it and I think the jury should sleep well at night.
  26. Nugget
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    Nugget - August 16, 2012 9:41 am
    Maybe you missed it brianiac. He was proven guilty and convicted in a court of law. Game over, go to jail!
  27. Responsible_Owner
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    Responsible_Owner - August 16, 2012 8:57 am
    You believe what you want to believe... this world is full of lies of one sort or another....

    If you think he did it then you don't really know him and you are one of those to hang someone before they are actually PROVEN guilty...

    Just like h99 from yesterday which whom was either a juror or his sister or brother in law by the comments posted and what I heard from sources close to the family...
  28. snow_informer
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    snow_informer - August 16, 2012 8:34 am
    Justice has been served. Eric Koula is a manipulator, a liar, and a cold-blooded killer. Why continue to lie to his children and wife? Well, it just shows his character. If he can convince himself in his mind that he did not do it, it just goes to show how messed up he is. I feel terrible for his family, torn apart. My heart goes out to his kids, his wife, and especially his sister.

    People can be all kinds of messed up, but it takes a pretty evil person to kill his parents.
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