Minn. felon charged in La Crosse photo shop killings

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 11, 2012 - 9:54 PM

A Minnesota man has been charged with homicide in the deaths of a man and his son at their downtown store.

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Jeffrey Lepsch

Photo: ., La Crosse Tribune via AP

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A 39-year-old felon from southeastern Minnesota has been charged with fatally shooting a man and his son in their Wisconsin photo store last month and making off with thousands of dollars in camera equipment.

Jeffrey P. Lepsch, of Dakota, was charged Wednesday in La Crosse (Wis.) County Circuit Court with two counts of first-degree homicide, armed robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

He was arrested Wednesday near his home and remains in the Winona County jail.

Store owner Paul Petras, 56, and his son A.J., 19, were shot in the head Sept. 15 after closing May's Photo in downtown La Crosse.

Police found the son's body behind the main counter near a safe, according to the criminal complaint. Paul Petras' body was inside a bathroom, its door open and the latch broken, the complaint continued.

More than $16,000 in camera equipment was stolen from a display case.

Lepsch's criminal history includes a 2003 conviction in La Crosse for stealing more than $60,000 in goods from an Ace Hardware warehouse and selling them online.

While the charges offered no evidence that Lepsch had a previous history with the Petrases or their store, it did note that Lepsch owns a company called Enrapture Photography and "had ties" to a Twin Cities camera store and other photography groups.

Paul Petras was born and raised in La Crosse, graduating from Aquinas High School in 1974. He enjoyed racing cars and riding motorcycles. He left behind a wife and a daughter.

A.J. Petras graduated from Aquinas in 2011 and competed on the school's ski team.

According to the criminal complaint:

Surveillance video from several businesses recorded a blue Dodge minivan parked near the photo store shortly before its 2 p.m. closing time. A man in a gray hooded sweatshirt got out of the van and entered the store, then left shortly before 3 p.m.

A van matching the description and registered to Lepsch's wife was later seen outside his home along Hwy. 61 and the Mississippi River in Dakota.

Police recovered 14 pieces of camera equipment from Lepsch's home Wednesday, traced them to May's Photo and confirmed they were stolen.

Lepsch told police that he was never at May's Photo and was at a Best Buy on the day of the killings and then spent time with family.

In the 2003 theft case, the La Crosse Tribune reported Thursday that Lepsch worked in loss prevention at an Ace Hardware distribution center, when he was arrested and accused of stealing $100,000 worth of merchandise over several years.

He pleaded no contest to a felony theft charge and was sentenced to one year in jail and five years' probation.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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