Trial to begin three years after triple homicideThree years after a triple homicide changed their neighborhood, residents of Janesville Terrace mobile home park look for closure as trial nears.
By: By Ted Sullivan, The Janesville Gazette, Wis., Superior Telegram
Three years after the triple homicide, Angela Puckett still keeps photos of the Lentz family in her living room.
Puckett smiled recently as she admired photos of Danyetta Lentz, 38, and her children, Nicole, 17, and Scott, 14.
Nicole is holding Puckett’s infant daughter in one picture. Scott is showing off his first fish caught on the Rock River in another.
“I look at them a lot, actually,” Puckett said. “I went through the pictures the other day. It brought tears to my eyes.”
Puckett is one of several residents in the Janesville Terrace mobile home park who don’t want to relive the Jan. 12, 2007, slayings of Danyetta and her two children when the trial begins today.
Former neighbors and friends said the murders changed their neighborhood, and they look forward to closure.
James Koepp, 50, also a former neighbor, will stand trial on three charges of first-degree intentional homicide in Rock County Court.
The trial will end what started with the murders, led to an arrest five days later, then criminal charges a year later and legal wrangling for two more years.
“Depending on the outcome, it will bring relief to the friends and family,” Puckett said. “They’ll never be forgotten, but you also have to move on.”
Terry Schmit, a former neighbor and friend of the Lentzes, said he might attend the trial.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t want to go through it again. It was hard,” he said. “People don’t trust each other as much as they used to. No one talks about it.”
Linda Mitchell, a neighbor who called 911 after the murders, said she has followed the case in the news.
“I’m just glad it’s going to be over with,” she said. “It’s been a long time.”
A normal family
Danyetta attended elementary school in Footville. She graduated from Parkview High School in Orfordville.
She was married a short time. She had been living in Janesville for more than 13 years.
Neighbors described Danyetta as a fighter who didn’t take nonsense from people. She also was quiet. Friends said she was a hard-working single mother.
Danyetta worked at Community Kids Learning Center, where she taught 3- and 4-year-old children. Co-workers said she was a great teacher.
Nicole was a pleasant, quiet girl, a teacher said. She had close friends and loved music and choir.
Scott was described as a smiley, fun-loving boy. He would stay after school to improve his grades. He was a member of the Human Relations Club and was a diversity trainer. He also played soccer.
A local Cub Scouts group still does annual fundraisers in Scott’s name.
On the night of the killings, Nicole told her boyfriend that “Jim” was in her home. Nicole’s boyfriend tried to call Nicole again at 9:30 p.m., but no one answered.
The next day, Danyetta’s father, Russ Lucht, went to his daughter’s home because Danyetta hadn’t gone to work. Danyetta’s kids also weren’t at school.
Lucht couldn’t get in the trailer’s locked door. He crawled through the window and saw blood everywhere.
Danyetta was in a hall. She had 23 stab wounds. A strangulation mark was found around her neck.
Scott was lying facedown on the kitchen floor with a knife in his chest. He also was strangled.
Nicole was on her back. A steak knife and black knife were found near her. She also was strangled and stabbed.
At least four weapons were used to kill the Lentzes.
Lucht fled the trailer. A neighbor called police.
Neighbors cried and screamed when they heard the news. They were scared.
Four days later, Koepp was driving drunk on Highway 51 and fled from a sheriff’s deputy.
Koepp was arrested on traffic charges and was held in the Rock County Jail.
Investigators already had wanted to question Koepp about the murders, and Koepp implicated himself in an interview.
“I didn’t mean to kill anyone,” Koepp told investigators.
Koepp admitted he was drinking beer in the Lentz home that night. He claimed he had an affair with Danyetta.
A detective had found small cuts on Koepp’s head, hands, wrists and lower legs. He also had a bruise on his left knee.
Koepp also had given detectives clothes he had worn the night of the murders. They would later provide key evidence.
Koepp was arrested five days after the murders.
A trusted neighbor
Residents in the mobile home park were shocked to learn of Koepp’s arrest. They had spent time with him. Koepp had even comforted people after the slayings.
Koepp, a registered sex offender, was born in Stoughton. He is the younger of two children, and his parents divorced when he was 2. His mother remarried, and her new husband adopted Koepp and his brother.
Koepp attended Edgerton High School, earned his GED at Madison Area Technical College in 1981 and later attended U.S. Army Reserve basic training.
Koepp also spent time in prison.
He was convicted in Dane County in 1983 of four charges of second-degree sexual assault after using a knife to force two women to perform sexual acts.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Koepp has adult children, and neighbors said he often played outside with his grandchildren. He played poker, enjoyed fishing and drinking beer. He worked at Papa John’s Pizza.
Koepp’s wife divorced him after his arrest. She said Koepp was having an affair with Danyetta.
Danyetta’s father said his daughter was not having an affair with Koepp.
People have questioned whether Koepp’s claims of an affair are his way of explaining why his DNA might be in the Lentz home.
No charges filed
Rock County District Attorney David O’Leary didn’t file homicide charges against Koepp immediately. He said the case had insufficient evidence.
Koepp was ordered held in the Rock County Jail on $60,000 cash for the four traffic charges. He stayed in jail.
Meanwhile, investigators built a case against Koepp, and O’Leary awaited the results of DNA evidence from the state crime lab.
Koepp later pleaded guilty to drunken driving and endangering safety charges from the chase. He was sentenced to four years in prison.
Koepp’s prison sentence gave the district attorney’s office time to await all evidence in the murder case before deciding whether to file charges.
Exactly one year after the murders, Koepp was charged with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide. Koepp pleaded not guilty.
Attorneys for Koepp filed several motions to try and dismiss the case. They also wanted evidence from Koepp’s shirt and jeans thrown out from trial.
Judge Alan Bates denied the motions.
Defense attorneys, however, were granted a change of venue.
The judge decided Koepp couldn’t get a fair trial with local jurors because of media coverage of the murders. Jurors will be selected from Kenosha County.
When Koepp’s trial begins, DNA will play a key role.
Prosecutors claim the victims’ DNA was linked to bloodstains on the jeans and shirt that Koepp wore the night of the homicides.
Defense attorneys claim DNA from an unknown assailant was found on a strangulation device and knives at the murder scene.
Koepp’s trial is scheduled to last two weeks.
Copyright (c) 2010, The Janesville Gazette, Wis./Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services