Eric Koula and his truck are not on surveillance video at a La Crosse store where he said he was shopping the evening his parents were killed, investigators testified Friday.
Koula’s attorneys deny he played a role in their May 21, 2010, homicides, arguing he was at the North Side La Crosse and Onalaska Shopko stores searching for a hanging plant when a “professional” executed Dennis and Merna Koula.
Koula told investigators he left a Loomis Street house about 5:30 p.m. for the La Crosse Shopko, but is not on video in the parking lot or garden center at Shopko or Bridgeview Plaza between 4:45 p.m. and 7 p.m., La Crosse County sheriff’s Sgt. John Zimmerman testified Friday, the fifth day of Koula’s 20-day trial.
Investigators contend he was at his parents’ house at N3071 Fox Hollow Drive in the town of Barre, where he shot his 65-year-old mother at 5:41 p.m. while she sat at her computer and his 68-year-old father minutes later when he returned home.
Prosecutors charged Koula, 42, in La Crosse County Circuit Court with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide, arguing overwhelming debt and a failing day trading career drove the West Salem man to kill his parents so he could reap the inheritance. He’s also accused of forging a $50,000 check drawn from his parent’s investment account.
Fifteen to 20 investigators reviewed the Shopko security video searching for Koula and his dark-colored Ford F150 after he said he searched the selection for an anniversary plant for his wife, Zimmerman said. They then compared the footage to surveillance video from two Bridgeview Plaza cameras for accuracy.
“Did they corroborate each other?” La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke asked.
“Yes, they did,” Zimmerman said.
His attorneys argue the Shopko cameras don’t capture every vehicle and shopper as they sweep the garden area every 45 seconds.
Koula’s attorney hinted that Koula parked his truck parallel to a sun canopy in the garden center. Investigators did not test whether a truck parked in that position would appear on video.
“It would be hard for a vehicle to park parallel in that area,” Zimmerman said.
Koula produced a receipt showing a 6:15 p.m. purchase for a $15.99 plant at the Onalaska Shopko, but security cameras at that store were not working that day.
Prosecutors continue to focus on what they believe is Koula’s motive to kill.
Dennis Koula’s brother, Leroy Koula, was the second witness in the trial to testify Friday that Dennis Koula said in the days before his death that he planned to sever all financial support of his son and daughter.
“He surprised me because he said, ‘I’m all done giving to the kids.’ That’s all he said,” Leroy Koula recalls his brother saying May 19 on a golf course.
He didn’t press, knowing Dennis Koula would open up if he wanted to.
Koula’s attorneys argue “kids” refers to Dennis Koula’s daughter and son-in-law. Leroy Koula disagrees, testifying his brother never referred to the son-in-law as his “kid.”
Jurors on Friday also viewed a note Koula reported receiving at his house May 28 that reads only “fixed you.” Earlier this week, defense attorney Jim Koby unexpectedly announced during his opening statement that Koula now admits to writing the note that claimed to frame him. Koula, he said, was upset investigators had questioned his son in the case.
Koula is on squad video stumbling in his driveway after calling authorities to retrieve the letter. He tells La Crosse County sheriff’s Sgt. Brian Wierzbicki that it was “very difficult” receiving the letter, according to court records.
Koula didn’t smell of alcohol or slur his speech, Wierzbicki testified. The stumbling, he said, was “unusual.”
Authorities continued to investigate the case for two months after Koula said he received the note.
They arrested him July 29 after finding financial documents belonging to his parents at his house and black leather gloves in his truck.
Investigators also confiscated a block of wood used for target practice from his backyard, La Crosse County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jeff Wolf testified. Under questioning from Koula’s attorney, Wolf said they didn’t compare bullet fragments from the wood to those extracted during the Koulas’ autopsies.
The trial enters its second week on Monday. The state is expected to finish its case mid-week.