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Lanny Bush found guilty of capital murder in Brownwood woman's death

By Betty Nguyen, bnguyen@ktxs.com
Published On: Apr 10 2014 07:20:13 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 11 2014 09:26:06 PM CDT
COLEMAN, Texas -

A jury found Lanny Bush guilty of capital murder Friday in the death of Brownwood woman Michele Reiter.

Bush, 54, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

According to court documents, Bush admitted to setting up a fake Facebook account to communicate with Reiter – with the intention to harm her – before her death.

Her vehicle was found abandoned at a sports complex. Her body was found a couple of weeks later in a shallow grave in Coleman County.

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The jury in the Lanny Bush murder trial may get the case soon.

Bush, 54, is charged with the murder of Brownwood woman Michele Reiter in 2012. The state and the defense finished questioning their list of witnesses on Thursday.

Closing arguments will begin at 10 a.m. Friday.

Inside the courtroom on Thursday, investigator James Stroope with the Brown County Sheriff's Office took the stand. Using Googlemaps, he showed the jury pinpoints of when and where Bush's and Reiter's phones traveled on the date Reiter was last seen, which was Sept. 10, 2012.

At 3 p.m. on that day, phone records indicated that Bush's phone was pinging from the Sportman's Center in Brownwood. Other evidence showed Bush buying ammunition from that store.

At 6:24 p.m., Reiter's phone could be traced heading down U.S. 377 South, toward the sports complex near the softball fields, Camp Bowie and Gordon Wood Stadium.

At 6:33 p.m., both phones were in the same area at the ball park.

Around 6:40 p.m., both phones appeared to be leaving the ball park, heading down FM 1176 toward Santa Anna in Coleman County.

According to Stroope, Reiter's phone stopped pinging at 8:55 p.m. However, Bush's phone continued to travel toward Valera and San Angelo. His phone remained stationary in San Angelo until the next day, Sept. 11, 2012 at 8:52 a.m.

The next morning, he left San Angelo and headed toward Coleman, taking the path toward Reiter's burial site. He allegedly stayed there for an extended period of time. Her remains were found two weeks later under a bridge in Coleman, off U.S. Hwy 67.

Reiter's phone signal had been off the radar until Sept. 11, 2012, at 10:28 a.m. Her phone signal was picked up for the last time at 10:37 a.m. The last location was at her burial site.

Texas Ranger Danny Crawford said in his testimony that he had to call multiple resources from various counties to help search for Reiter's body.

"It was like looking for a needle in a haystack," Crawford said. "Brown County Sheriff's deputy Scott Bird found the body. It was in a shallow grave, about 5-feet long, 3-feet wide and 8-inches deep."

Crawford also said there was a piece of toilet paper about 40 to 60 feet from the grave, with an unknown DNA sample on it.

Also testifying Thursday was medical examiner Dr. Marc Krouse from Fort Worth, who said there was no evidence of external injuries to Reiter's body, like gunshot or stab wounds.

Due to the fact that the body was classified as "moderate to advanced decomposition", the cause of death remains unknown, but he said asphyxiation by smothering cannot be ruled out. He believed foul play was involved.

Bush's estranged daughter, Jennifer High, also took the stand. She said she introduced her father to Reiter, who was her best friend. However, she had not talked to Bush since late September.

"On Sept. 10, I got a text from Lanny. It said 'It's an emergency, please call me,'" High said. "It was after 10 p.m. because I called him back after I got off work. We had a 20-minute conversation and he told me that Michele was missing and her car was abandoned at the sports complex. He thought he was a suspect and he wanted me to call Michele."

She did so and got no response. High learned the next day that Reiter was really missing and that her father "wasn't playing a game to get Michele back".

High recalled a threat Bush said to Reiter.

"He told her if she was fooling around with a married man, then she would end up in a ditch,” High said.

The defense only called three witnesses before resting their case.

One of those witnesses was Bush's former girlfriend, Cynthia Barrow. Bush moved in with Barrow after he split from Reiter. According to Barrow, Bush came home around 11:30 p.m. on Sept. 10, 2012, but he did not seem upset, angry or anxious.