A La Crosse County Judge Monday denied a request for a new trial made by a West Salem man who was convicted of killing his parents in 2012 in their Barre Mills home.
Online court records show Judge Scott Horne issued the ruling denying Eric Koula's motion, which was based on ineffective counsel in his original trial.
Koula was convicted following a three week trial in June, 2012 of shooting Dennis and Merna Koula over what prosecutors portrayed at trial as a need by Koula to collect an inheritance to get out of debt. The couple was found dead in their home in May, 2010. Eric Koula was arrested on two charges of First Degree Intentional Homicide and a forgery charge in July, 2010.
In April, 2014, in his appeals hearing in La Crosse, Koula and his attorney argued that the original defense team, despite objections to Judge Horne that the testimony was hearsay, wasn't able to keep testimony from jurors from Dennis Koula's brother, Leroy Koula, who said that Dennis was going to cut off financial support to the 'kids'. It was never determined whether Dennis Koula was referring to Eric or his sister and her husband.
Koula, who has maintained his innocence throughout, is now serving a life sentence without possibility of release for the homicides.
Attorneys for Eric Koula argued Friday afternoon that ineffective counsel in the June, 2012 trial led to an unfair conviction and life prison sentence. With Koula sitting next to them in orange La Crosse County Jail clothing, they made their case in front of original trial Judge Scott Horne.
They called three of the original attorneys on Koula's defense team, Keith Belzer, James Koby, and Nicholas Thompson.
Much of the testimony Friday surrounded the testimony of Leroy Koula which the original defense was unable to keep from jurors. Attorney Koby argued at length that the testimony was hearsay and prejudicial to the jury. Judge Horne overruled the objection and allowed the testimony. What Leroy Koula told jurors was about a conversation he'd had with Dennis Koula in which Dennis said he was going to cut off financial support to the ‘kids'. It wasn't known whether that referred to Eric or his sister and her husband, or all three.
One of the original defense attorneys, Nicholas Thompson, said that the ruling allowing the testimony was “devastating” for the defense. In an attempt at what the attorneys referred to as ‘damage control', they discussed a strategy that changed the wording of one of the jury instructions from the word “children” to “kids”. The thought at the time of the trial in June, 2012, was that the word children referred to biological and pointed more at Eric and his sister. By changing the word, the defense felt it helped include Eric's sister and her husband as having reason to kill Dennis and Merna Koula.
The couple was found shot to death in their Barre Mills home in May, 2010.
Rather than take oral arguments, Judge Horne allowed both the defense and District Attorney Tim Gruenke to submit written arguments to the court.
Once Judge Horne reviews the transcripts of the testimony and the arguments, he told both sides he'll issue a ruling sometime by late July or early August.
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