Man gets life for killing father, son in La Crosse

Published 9:51 am Wednesday, September 4, 2013

LA CROSSE, Wis. — A Minnesota man was sentenced to life in prison without release Tuesday for the shooting deaths of a western Wisconsin photography store owner and his teenage son last fall.

Jeffrey Lepsch, of Dakota, did not make a statement during the sentencing in La Crosse County Tuesday.

Lepsch, 40, was found guilty in July of killing 56-year-old Paul Petras and his 19-year-old son A.J. in May’s Photo in La Crosse on Sept. 15, 2012. He was also convicted of robbing them of $17,000 worth of equipment.

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“To say (the killings) were cold-blooded in my mind is an understatement,” Judge Ramona Gonzalez said. “Within a breath of committing the crimes, he continued to live his life as though nothing had changed.”

Family and attorneys kept statements short during the 45-minute hearing.

“I feel bad for his kids, but it was his decision. He shouldn’t have taken our family from us,” said Sherri Petras, Paul’s wife and A.J.’s mother.

The prosecution had argued during trial that Lepsch needed the camera equipment to sell for cash to pay off debt and support his family.

Surveillance video and cellphone and vehicle records led investigators to Lepsch. Investigators connected every piece of equipment stolen from May’s to Lepsch — whether in his home, his van or sold over the Internet to support his family of five.

“It was intentional. It was thought out. It was calculating,” District Attorney Tim Gruenke said Tuesday.

Gruenke called for the maximum sentence, saying Lepsch killed to satisfy his own needs and won’t admit it.

Assistant State Public Defender Tom Huh asked the judge to allow for the possibility of release “way down the road” to benefit Lepsch’s family.

Lepsch plans to appeal his conviction.