OTTAWA — Michael Luebrecht is not denying his role in a nearly 13-year-old murder, but he still offered a new defense in court Tuesday.
The new trial for Luebrecht, a man who plead guilty to the first-degree murder of his young son in 2005, began in Putnam County Court of Common Pleas, with Judge Randall Basinger presiding with opening statements Tuesday.
The defense agreed with the prosecution that the murder had occurred but the two sides have two different interpretations as to why the murder happened.
Danny Hill, Luebrecht’s attorney, told the jury of four women and nine men that he did not deny his client killed his 13-month-old son, Joel, on May 23, 2005.
“We’re not contending the events of this case,” Hill said. “We all know what happened. I’m not going to try to prove someone else did this.”
Instead, Hill’s argument is the medications Luebrecht was taking at the time for depression and obsessive compulsive disorder — Luvox, Remeron and Zoloft — altered his personality, making him seem cold and unemotional while giving him suicidal and homicidal tendencies.
Putnam County Prosecutor Gary Lammers said he would prove that Luebrecht being cold and unemotional did not stem from his medications but from the fact that he was a cold, calculating killer who planned the crime weeks in advance.
Luebrecht was given a life sentence in 2006 after pleading guilty to picking up his youngest son from the babysitter, Karen Leursman of Cloverdale — who was a witness for the prosecution yesterday — taking him home and drowning him in the bathtub. In November, Luebrecht appealed to change his guilty plea to not guilty after the side effects of the medications he was on in 2005 were discovered.
After hearing expert testimony, Basinger granted the appeal and Luebrecht’s request for a jury trial.
All of the prosecution’s witnesses testified about how cold and unemotional Luebrecht was at the time of the murder.
Leursman was the first witness Lammers called for the prosecution Tuesday afternoon after the jury was selected in the morning. During an emotional testimony, Leursman said she babysat both Seth Luebrecht, then 4, and Joel.
She said usually the two boys were dropped off each day and picked up by their mother, Amy Luebrecht. Michael Luebrecht came by to pick Joel up the day of the murder for what he said was a doctor’s appointment.
“He didn’t seem different at all,” Leursman replied when Lammers asked if he seemed upset that day.
During cross examination, Hill asked her again if Luebrecht seemed different on that day and if she remembered telling sheriff’s deputies in an interview that Luebrecht has become withdrawn and quiet over the course of a few months. Leursman said she didn’t remember saying that during the interview. After viewing a recording of the interview, she then said she remembered saying Luebrecht’s personality had changed, he had become quiet and distant.
Lammers also called Jim Rhodes of Ottawa, one of the EMTs who responded to the 9-1-1 called placed by Luebrecht in 2005, as a witness for the prosecution. During questioning, Rhodes testified that he overheard Luebrecht telling Andy Recker, a Putnam County Sheriff’s Deputy in 2005 who responded to the 9-1-1 call on his day off to help with the event, that he had killed Joel Luebrecht and had been planning to do so for a couple of weeks.
During cross examination Hill produced the report Rhodes filed about the incident in 2005 in which he doesn’t mention hearing Luebrecht admit to planning the murder weeks in advance, Hill said.
“This was made when the memory was fresh in your mind, in fact it was the day of,” Hill said. “Is it possible you’re recalling it correctly?”
Rhodes said he wasn’t recalling hearing Luebrecht confessing to the murder being premeditated and Hill pointed the discrepancy between his testimony yesterday and the report filed 12 years ago.
During Hill’s cross examination of then-Putnam County Sheriff James Beutler, Beutler said Rhodes had not told him, or reported, Luebrecht allegedly confessing to planning the crime weeks in advance.
Reach Bryan Reynolds at 567-242-0362.