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Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Eric Koula Double Murder Case

     Eric Koula, a 41-year-old day trader who lived in West Salem, Wisconsin with his wife and teenage son, called 911 on May 24, 2010 from his parent's house in nearby Barre to report that someone had shot and killed Dennis and Merna Koula. Homicide detectives would determine that the couple had been murdered three days earlier with a .22-caliber rifle, a weapon never identified.

     After the LaCrosse County prosecutor, Tim Gruenke charged Eric Koula on July 29, 2010 with two counts of first-degree murder, police took him into custody. According to the prosecutor, Koula, in financial trouble, murdered his parents in order to inherit their estate. While the prosecutor had motive, means, and opportunity supporting this theory, it was what the state didn't have that made acquiring a conviction unlikely. What the prosecutor didn't have included a confession, an eyewitness, physical evidence pointing to Koula's guilt, or the murder weapon.

     Eric Koula, represented by Jim Kolby and Keith Belzer, went on trial on June 6, 2012. In his opening remarks to the jury of five men and seven women, prosecutor Gruenke stated the defendant executed his mother as she sat at her office computer, then shot his father when he walked into the room. Eric Koula's attorneys, on the other hand, assured the jury their client had an airtight alibi, and pointed out the obvious weakness of the prosecution's case. According to the defense theory of the murders, the victims had been killed by professional hitmen who entered the wrong house. (That doesn't sound too professional to me.) The defense didn't elaborate on who had masterminded the contract killing, or why.   

     According to a forensic accountant who testified on behalf of the state, the defendant had only $3,000 in the bank, and owed the IRS and several credit card companies $150,000. Shortly after his parent's violent deaths, Koula had deposited into his bank a $50,000 check drawn on his father's account. 

     Investigators took the stand and testified that the defendant had planted evidence  to make himself look innocent. He had written "fixed you" on a piece of paper and put it into his mailbox. The defendant hoped the note would make it look as though the killer was trying to frame him for the murders. Koula eventually confessed to fabricating this evidence.

     After the state rested its case on June 14, the defense put their own forensic accountant on the stand who testified that Koula's assets exceeded his liabilities. (To me, the term "forensic accountant" is an oxymoron. Accounting is as much a science as economics. While I realize that the word "forensic" pertains to a formal argument like a structured debate or a trial, it still doesn't sound right.) 

     On June 16, Eric Koula took the stand on his own behalf. (This fact alone makes this murder trial somewhat unusual.) Questioned on direct examination by attorney Keith Belzer, the defendant said that in 1994 he, his cousin, and his father purchased a Ford dealership. Eric became president of the company, but in 2006 his father sold the business. Although his father owed him $1million from the sale of the car dealership, the defendant only received $500,000. After the sale of the company, Eric began his day trading enterprise. In 2007 he made $300,000 in profits, but the following year he lost $661,000.

     In 2009, Eric's father gave him $100,000, and in May 2010 his parents promised him another $50,000. On May 20, the defendant went to his parent's home to pick up the $50,000 check. His father handed him a black check and told him to fill it in himself. That's why he signed his father's name on the check and tried to make the signature look like his father's handwriting. This was the last time the defendant saw his parent's alive. 

     On Friday, May 21, 2010, the day Dennis and Merna Koula were gunned down, the defendant detailed his activities in a way that established an airtight alibi. The next day, he deposited the $50,000 check bearing his father's fake signature. 

     On Monday, Mary 24, someone at the school where Mrs. Koula taught called Eric to inform him his mother had not shown up for work and that no one at her house was picking up the phone. Eric drove to Barre to check on his parents. He became alarmed when he saw their cars parked in the garage. Inside the house he found his father lying dead on the home office floor, and his mother at her desk slumped over the computer. After calling 911, he phoned his wife and his pastor who rushed to the scene to give him support. 

     LaCrosse County deputies took the defendant to the sheriff's office for questioning. In his statement, he forgot to mention the $50,000 check he had deposited containing his father's phony signature. A week later, investigators came to his house to speak to him about the whereabouts of his son Dexter on the day of the murders. The detectives also wanted to know if the boy had access to a .22-caliber rifle. Worried that the police were going to arrest his son for the murder of his grandparents, the defendant wrote the "fixed you" note and placed it in his mailbox. He testified that he had fabricated this evidence to protect his son. 

     The defendant admitted that on July 29, 2010, when he met with detectives for the third and last time, he denied signing the $50.000 check, and didn't reveal that he had written the "fixed you" note. 

     On cross-examination, prosecutor Gary Freyburg pressed the defendant regarding his financial troubles. The prosecutor reminded him about the forged $50,000 check and the planted evidence. The cross-examiner pointed out that in Koula's 911 call, the defendant started out by explaining why he was at his parent's house. Once he justified his presence at the murder scene, he reported his emergency. 

     The testimony phase of the trial came to a close on June 26, 2012. The outcome of the case depended entirely on whether the jurors believed the defendant's testimony. After deliberating less than a day, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. By Wisconsin law, the judge had to impose a sentence of life. The judge could, however, decide to make Koula eligible for parole after serving 40 years behind bars. So, the best Koula could hope for was to walk free at age 83.

     On August 12, 2012, Judge Scott Home, at the sentence hearing, said this to the convicted killer: "You took the life of the two people who gave you life, and you'll spend the rest of your life incarcerated." The judge sentenced Koula to two consecutive life sentences without the chance of parole.      



  1. Guilty as charged.

  2. This guy was clearly railroaded. Yes, he did some stupid things but, Eric is innocent of this. Why didn't they look at the sister? She had the motive. She was ticked because Eric got more than her. She jumped right on the "Eric is a Murderer Wagon" very fast. If my brother was accused of killing our parents and they had the same evidence as they had for Eric, I would never believe my brother could have done it. NEVER... He is INNOCENT> plain and simple.

    1. I SOOOOOO, did I say so? I so agree with you on this. Why didn't' they look at the sister? The parents were indeed going to cut her off too! Her parents paid ALL her bills and we going to cut her off too! She talked about her brother using his parents as a ATM, we hey world so did she! She is fake crying and there is NO evidence of her brother doing it. Why be so gung ho about it? BTW her brother was closer to his parents esp his father. He played much more involvement in his life helping him. Sorry but something is not right here. I am not necessarily saying the sister did it, but what if it was meant for the banker across the street? Or, what if she did do it??? Regardless, the faster the sister put her brother in jail for life, she gets every single dime. Dimes she never had to earn as her parents paid all her bills and she leeched off her parents as well. Sorry something is fishy here, and it's sad there is NO proof he did it, and the jurors and his sister are ready to send him to jail for LIFE over no proof whatsoever. I am all for the true murder to be in jail, but you should really get some proof before saying who actually did this brutal act of evil to that poor couple. They deserve that, if nothing else.

  3. He not only did some 'stupid' things but they were also 'criminal' things. ....things that his sister did 'not' do. If she were involved, he would have implicated her. He's guilty.

  4. I watched the this on 48 hours and i really this the man did not do this,i mean i cant believe his sister did not stand by her brother,its very strange i think.something is not right here,this man should get a new trial,he deserves that much!!!!

  5. Forging his Dad's signature, writing a fake letter, sponging off his parents and is in debt for over 100, he didn't do it.

  6. The mother was at her computor desk, shemust of known it was Eric who came in, and did not get up, she knew who it was.He cashed the check the day after the killings, knowing full well his father could not do anything about it.The exact time he was to be at Shopkos, where there is absolutly no evidence that he was there, the killings took place.The "Fixed you" note was a blatent attempt to suggest the killer was taunting him.What innocent person would ever do this, the innocent would be demanding the police to find the killer, not complicate the investigation with something so indiotic.A thief would only leave the bottom drawer open when stealing, you need to close the upper ones to rifle through each drawer, and a thief would also actually steal things.This guy is guilty as charged, no resonable doubt, the jury did a great job.

  7. Guilty people tend to give much more info than needed. When he called 911, he first explained why he was in his parents' home. That is precious time that should have been used to get the police to the home. That to me, is very fishy, along w/the note & forging the check.