COLEMAN — If not for the presence of a couple of small markers, Michele Reiter's shallow grave under a bridge in rural Coleman County would be undetectable. There is no activity in the isolated, peaceful countryside where the bridge on FM 1026 crosses Home Creek — Reiter's burial site.
The activity has been at the Coleman County Courthouse, nine miles north of the Reiter's grave, where Lanny Bush stood trial this past week for capital murder in his ex-girlfriend's September 2012 death. A 42nd District Court jury deliberated for about two hours Friday before returning the verdict, and District Judge John Weeks sentenced Bush, 54, to life in prison without parole — a mandatory sentence in a non-death-penatly case.
The case was tried in Coleman County because Reiter's body was found there on Sept. 24, 2012, two weeks after her roommate reported her missing. The prosecution team consisted of 42nd District Attorney Heath Hemphill, 35th District Attorney Micheal Murray and Sam Moss, first assistant district attorney in Murray's office.
Reiter was 38 when she died and was a mother of two. She worked at the Home Depot store in Brownwood.
Bush was accused by a Coleman County Grand Jury indictment of kidnapping, or attempting to kidnap Reiter and causing her death "by means unknown to the grand jury." The Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office could not determine what caused Reiter's death.
Defense attorney Perry Sims of Early sought to convince jurors, through his cross-examination of state's witnesses and in his closing arguments, that investigators had made up their minds Bush was guilty and ignored evidence that could indicate other suspects. Sims said there was no evidence of a struggle where Reiter's car was found near the Camp Bowie ball fields off FM 45, and "there was no kidnapping. She was there willingly," Sims told jurors.
Sims argued that investigators had not been diligent in gathering evidence and interviewing other potential suspects, had been interested only in convicting Bush, not in finding out what really happened.
Murray countered in his closing argument that investigators had gathered "overwhelming evidence" and that the defendant was crafty, but "circumstantial evidence is strong. This is more than circumstantial evidence. This is circumstantial evidence on steroids."
Murray summarized evidence and the testimony of state's witnesses who described a troubled five-year relationship between Bush and Reiter. When Reiter left Bush in August 2012, Murray told jurors, "Lanny Bush did not want to let her go." Reiter moved in with her friend Denise Worrell, and Bush made Reiter's life "a living hell," Murray said.
A search of Bush's computer revealed that Bush had been researching topics including "knock-out" drops and drugs, anatomy and missing person protocol. Bush also began communicating with Reiter via Facebook under the persona of Rocky Switzer, claiming to be someone who'd known her in high school.
At 4:36 a.m. on Sept. 10, Murray told jurors, citing Sprint phone records, Bush began "burning up" Reiter's phone. Bush called her 16 times that day and sent numerous text messages. Bush later told Texas Rangers he wanted to meet with her to return a computer, a jacket and a camera. Reiter's friends told her not to meet with Bush alone.
Bush first told the Rangers it never worked out to meet with Reiter, but then said he meet with her twice that day.
Bush went to a Brownwood business around 3 p.m. that day and bought .32 caliber ammunition, and asked his nephew about the location of a pistol. That gun has not been found.
Reiter was preparing to go out on a date that night with the man she believed to be Rocky Switzer. But first, Reiter drove to the area of the ball fields and had a two-minute phone conversation, from 6:17 to 6:19 p.m., with Bush, Murray told jurors. Phone records showed that the phones were briefly together in the area where Reiter's car was found, then began traveling toward the area where Reiter's body was later found.
Murray asked jurors what could've made Reiter leave that area so soon and asked if it could have had "anything to do with a .32 caliber pistol being put in her hear."
Sprint records showed that the two phones were together in the area where Reiter's body was found, and only Bush's phone left the area, Murray told jurors.
Bush told the Rangers "a web of lies" in which he became ensnared, Murray told jurors.