'You have no conscience,' judge tells Krista Lueth's killer as she sentences him to prison

LANSING — In the end, there wasn't much left to say.

Fifteen years after Krista Lueth disappeared without a trace and nearly three years after a former boyfriend was charged in connection with her death, Brad Cournaya was sent to prison for life during a relatively brief, almost perfunctory sentencing hearing Wednesday in Ingham County Circuit Court.

Judge Joyce Draganchuk told Cournaya she contemplated what to say before imposing the mandatory sentence for first-degree, premeditated murder, including a possible effort to play on his conscience in hopes he might reveal the location of Lueth's remains.

Krista Lueth was murdered in 2008. Her remains have never been found.
Krista Lueth was murdered in 2008. Her remains have never been found.

"I realized you have no conscience," she said. "There's nothing I really can say to you."

Cournaya, 56, was convicted of killing Lueth during a jury trial in June, even though her body has never been found.

He had nothing to say to Draganchuk on Wednesday. Neither did his attorney, Keith Watson, other than to note that Cournaya maintained his innocence. Deputy Chief Assistant Ingham County Prosecutor Bill Crino also declined to address the judge.

READ MORE: 'So many emotions:' Krista Lueth's father discusses the death of his daughter, and the conviction of her killer

Lueth, 34, was living in Lansing and studying horticulture at Michigan State University when she went missing in November 2008. She attended her classes at MSU that day but never made it to her urban gardening class that evening at Hunter Park, within easy walking distance of her apartment on Eureka Street in Lansing.

Cournaya had been living with her before she ended their relationship just days before she disappeared, according to testimony in Cournaya's trial.

State police announced in 2014 that Cournaya was the only suspect in her death, but he wasn't charged until about six years later, after a new team of detectives had taken up the case and resubmitted evidence for testing.

By that time, Cournaya was serving a lengthy sentence stemming from a 2017 human trafficking and commercial sex case in Ingham County. Authorities said he showed a child an obscene photo of himself and a sex video, and also showed her messages on his phone asking if she wanted to make money.

Brady Cournaya listens as Assistant Prosecutor Bill Crino makes his opening statements to the jury, Tuesday, June 13, 2023, in Joyce Draganchuk's courtroom regarding the murder of Krista Lueth, 34. Cournaya was convicted by a jury.
Brady Cournaya listens as Assistant Prosecutor Bill Crino makes his opening statements to the jury, Tuesday, June 13, 2023, in Joyce Draganchuk's courtroom regarding the murder of Krista Lueth, 34. Cournaya was convicted by a jury.

The key evidence in the murder trial was the discovery of Lueth's state ID card, debit card and broken cellphone along the shoulder and median of southbound U.S. 127 at College Road, in the spot where his truck had broken down on the night she disappeared. Michigan State Police discovered in 2009 that someone from the Ingham County Sheriff's Office had come upon Cournaya's truck and logged it as a motorist assist.

Cell phone data indicated Lueth vanished over a three-hour period. She had broken things off with Cournaya five days earlier after discovering he had used her credit card to pay more than $200 in charges for a telephone sex line call or calls, according to testimony.

The data showed numerous contacts between Cournaya and Lueth on the day she went missing, including a dozen contacts in the late afternoon and early evening. It also indicated Cournaya was at or near her home around the time she vanished. Cournaya never tried to call Lueth after that night.

Crino argued the evidence showed an angry Cournaya was "relentlessly" contacting Lueth, writing her messages professing his undying love and begging her to give him another chance.

Lueth had a full load of classes and worked as a project manager and administrator for a company that contracted with the Ingham County Drain Commission, putting in rain gardens, according to testimony. She also volunteered at Hunter Park and attended a weekly urban gardening class there. She was enrolled in fall classes at MSU and had scholarship money lined up for 2009.

Roy Lueth testifies about his daughter Krista, Tuesday, June 16, 2023, in Ingham County Court.
Roy Lueth testifies about his daughter Krista, Tuesday, June 16, 2023, in Ingham County Court.

"This is not a person who is going to pick up and disappear off the face of the earth without telling anybody," Crino argued.

The jury deliberated only a few hours after a two-week trial before convicting Cournaya as charged.

Lueth's father, Roy Lueth, was the only one who made a statement in Wednesday's hearing, telling Draganchuk Cournaya is "not worth one second of my time, or your time ... or anyone else."

Lueth recalled how he and his daughter spent a lot of time together "doing fun things," including riding ATVs, fishing in the pond and walking in the woods on his St. Clair County property.

"Whatever happens today isn’t going to bring Krista back," he said, later adding, "We had a close relationship. I loved Krista very much and miss her terribly."

Contact Ken Palmer at kpalmer@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @KBPalm_lsj.

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Brad Cournaya sentenced for killing MSU student Krista Lueth