- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 27, 2016

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - A volunteer firefighter’s conviction in the death of his pregnant wife will stand even though there is no direct proof of his guilt, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The circumstantial evidence offered by prosecutors against Seth Techel is enough to support the jury’s guilty verdict, a three-judge panel of the Iowa Court of Appeals said. Techel, now 25, is serving life in prison without parole in the May 2012 killing of Lisa Techel in their trailer in Agency, a town in southeastern Iowa. She was four months pregnant with the couple’s first child.

Techel claimed in a hysterical 911 call that he was in the shower early that morning when an intruder broke in, shot his sleeping wife and fled.

Prosecutors said that story was a lie, and that Techel killed his wife because he wanted to be with Rachel McFarland, a co-worker with whom he had spent months pursuing a relationship.

Techel has maintained his innocence and pointed to other possible suspects, including a now-deceased mentally ill neighbor with whom he had been involved in an escalating feud.

The first two trials ended in hung juries, with jurors divided on his guilt. Techel was convicted of first-degree murder and nonconsensual termination of a human pregnancy at the third trial. The case was the subject of a “Dateline NBC” episode.

The appeal focused on a discovery that came just before the third trial: that Lisa Techel had been having an affair with a married co-worker in Washington County, where she was a jailer.

The defense learned of the relationship after examining her cellphone - a step that investigators had not taken earlier in the case. It asked for the trial to be delayed for further investigation, arguing the man could have been a suspect in Lisa’s death. The defense also accused the state of failing to disclose the affair as potentially exculpatory evidence.

In Wednesday’s ruling, appeals court Judge Richard Doyle found no evidence that law enforcement officials concealed the affair and said Seth Techel failed to show what he would have gained from further investigation. He noted Techel was able to use the affair to support the defense argument that investigators had unfairly focused on him and failed to consider other plausible suspects.

Doyle said the evidence against Techel was “circumstantial and subject to differing views by reasonable jurors” but nonetheless sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Techel had told McFarland that he would leave his wife on the day that she was killed, was inside the trailer when the shooting happened and failed to render aid on Lisa even though he was trained to do so, Doyle also noted.

In addition, Techel did not list the shotgun that was used to shoot Lisa when asked to write down all the weapons that had been in the trailer at the time, Doyle noted. The gun was later found in tall grass on the property.

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