LANSING, Mich. — More than a decade after a Michigan State University student vanished without a trace, her sex offender ex-boyfriend has been charged in her presumed death.
Brad Cournaya, 53, of Mason, is charged with open murder in the disappearance of 34-year-old Krista Robin Lueth, according to the Lansing State Journal. Cournaya was already in prison, serving 16 to 40 years on charges involving sex trafficking of a minor and using a computer to commit a crime.
It was not immediately clear what prompted the murder charge against Cournaya at this time when he has long been the prime suspect in Lueth’s disappearance.
Prosecutors told the court at Cournaya’s 2017 sentencing on the unrelated charges that he has “almost no rehabilitative potential,” the State Journal reported.
“We have a defendant who stands before you here today who has a lifelong adult criminal history of violent sexual crimes against women and children,” prosecutor Bill Crino said.
Watch a Crime Watch Daily segment on the Krista Lueth case below.
Cournaya’s criminal life began early. At 18, he was charged with breaking into an apartment in Mason and raping the woman who lived there at knifepoint. In 1986, he was sentenced to serve 10 to 15 years in prison.
He was released in June 2000 after serving 14 years, but was soon in trouble again. After assaulting a female relative, he was sentenced to up to eight years for child abuse.
He was paroled in 2007. He and Lueth met and began dating in early 2008, authorities and her family said.
Cournaya’s current prison sentence stemmed from his showing a 15-year-old girl a cellphone photo of his penis, as well as a sex video, court records show. He also showed her messages on his phone asking if she wanted to make money.
Cournaya denied the allegations against him and told the court the prosecutors and police were targeting him because they suspected his involvement in Lueth’s disappearance.
“These photos, which in fact do not exist, were used to incriminate me in the jury’s eyes,” Cournaya told a judge in 2017. “Mr. Crino and his detectives are the ones trying to prosecute me for a homicide.
“And that’s what this is all about, an alleged homicide.”
A mysterious disappearance
Lueth, who had already earned a degree in botany, was studying for a second bachelor’s degree in horticulture, according to the Charley Project, a nonprofit organization that highlights missing persons cases.
Following her classes on Nov. 11, 2008, Lueth took the bus home to her rented house on Eureka Street.
“Lueth was subletting an apartment on the floor below her to a friend and spoke to him between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m.,” the Charley Project website states. “She was concerned because she’d broken up with her live-in boyfriend and he had just moved out, so her rental costs would increase. She said she planned to sell her truck and take a part-time waitress job to make ends meet.”
That live-in boyfriend was Cournaya.
Lueth’s father later told investigators that his daughter had complained that Cournaya would not stop calling her following the breakup, which occurred a week or two before she disappeared, the State Journal reported.
“I don’t know what happened,” Lueth’s longtime friend Murray Stewart-Jones told Crime Watch Daily in 2015. “Whatever happened, it wasn’t good.”
The friend who lived below Lueth told detectives that she was upbeat during their talk and that after she returned to her apartment, all was quiet.
“She was supposed to attend at 6:30 p.m. class at a greenhouse half a mile from home, but never showed up. She has never been heard from again,” the Charley Project site states.
Lueth’s friends grew worried when they could not reach her. A search of her apartment revealed her beloved cat, Moet, was locked inside, alone.
The living room light was on and there was a covered pan of food on the stove, as though Lueth was interrupted while cooking.
“It looked like someone who was studying had left — but who was coming back,” Lueth’s friend, Juline Jordan, told the State Journal in 2008.
“She went with someone she trusted,” her father, Roy Lueth, said in 2009.
All sources on the case reported that it was highly unlikely that Lueth would have left on her own.
“Her loved ones describe(d) her as a reliable, responsible woman who wouldn’t have abandoned her pet or left without warning,” the website states. “She was a very good student and planned to apply to a graduate program at Cornell University.”
Cournaya quickly became a person of interest in the case.
The State Journal reported that cellphone records showed that Cournaya was the last person Lueth called the day she vanished. Evidence also showed he was in the area of her home.
A deputy later reported that on the night of Nov. 11, he’d stopped to help Cournaya after Cournaya’s truck broke down on U.S. 127 near College Road, about eight miles from Lueth’s home. When Cournaya said a tow truck was en route, the deputy left.
Months later, when police searched the area of that encounter, they found Lueth’s driver’s license, her debit card and her broken cellphone. Cournaya also gave police inconsistent statements and was “untruthful as to his whereabouts,” a detective previously told the State Journal.
Lueth’s disappearance was declared a homicide in September 2009, the newspaper reported. Cournaya was named the prime suspect in the case in 2014, six years after Lueth disappeared.
Michigan State Police Sgt. Tom Declercq, who has since retired, told Crime Watch Daily in 2015 that he believed Cournaya was responsible for Lueth’s death. He also revealed a potential motive for the couple’s breakup.
“In addition to that, he ended up charging in excess of $500 on her cellphone for pornography,” Declercq said.
The former detective theorized that Lueth got in a vehicle with Cournaya and an argument ensued. “Pings” from Cournaya’s cellphone put him close to her home that night.
“I believe she said something to him that made him angry,” Declercq said. “Because he was trying to get the relationship going again. But that wasn’t going to happen.
“I believe she said something to him that caused him to snap.”
Crime Watch Daily paid a visit to Cournaya’s mother’s house, where a shirtless and tattooed Cournaya soon showed up with his wife. When asked about Lueth’s disappearance, he declined to talk at length.
“You’re on my mom’s property and I will drop your a--,” he told the cameraman. “Guaranteed.”
Cournaya disparaged Lueth’s reputation in the brief encounter.
“They make her seem like a goody-two-shoes,” he said. “She’s a crackhead, a drug addict, an alcoholic.”
“So do you feel like you’re being railroaded and treated unfairly?” the reporter asked.
“Yeah,” he responded.
Roy Lueth told the news program that he needed answers.
“I just want to know where she is, so I can put her to rest,” Roy Lueth said.
Stewart-Jones recalled her friend’s “infectious” laugh. She wept as she talked about her friend.
“I miss her every day,” she said.
Stewart-Jones wrote about Cournaya’s murder charge on Facebook last week.
“Big day across the board,” she wrote. “My good friend Krista, whom many miss dearly, just may get some justice.”