Posted July 3, 2012
More details were revealed in court today in the investigation into the murder of a 16-year-old Benson High student.
The body of Melanie Koontz was found under the Blondo Street bridge over Cole Creek on May 15th.
An Omaha Police homicide detective Scott Warner took the stand Tuesday morning during the preliminary hearing for 16-year-old Justin Lenz, who is facing charges for first degree murder and the use of a weapon to commit a felony.
Warner says Lenz told a friend the night before his arrest that he had killed Koontz with his own belt after they had sex. He first squeezed her neck her from behind, causing her to go into convulsions and fall down. Then he took his own belt and wrapped it around her neck to "finish the job," Warner says.
According to Warner, the friend says Lenz decided to kill Koontz because he was upset at some of the changes going on in her life.
Police questioned Lenz at two different times before his arrest. The first time was during a balloon release organized by friends of Koontz at Gallagher Park.
Three cell phones, three computers and several belts were taken from Lenz's home while executing two different search warrants.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Thomas Harmon ruled there was enough evidence to stand trial and sent the case to district court.
A 16-year-old Omaha boy was in court Friday afternoon to answer to charges in the death of Melanie Koontz, the Benson High School student whose body was found in Cole Creek on May 15th.
Justin Lenz went before a judge and learned there would be no bond, meaning Lenz will remain jailed at the Douglas County Juvenile Center until his next hearing on July 3rd. Lenz was charged as an adult with first-degree murder and use of a weapon to commit a felony in the death of the 16-year-old.
Justin’s family was in court and visibly upset. They had no comment as they left the courtroom. Lenz was arrested and charged on Thursday.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine confirms Koontz was strangled, but wouldn't say what weapon was used. Her body was found in the creek near 80th and Blondo. “It seems that that was a meeting place, that's the location where the crime occurred, where the strangulation occurred.”
Kleine said after weeks of conducting interviews, a third party came forward with information that Lenz allegedly committed the crime. “It's simply a situation of gathering evidence, investigating a case, doing the forensic work, so that takes a little time and of course you develop a case on an individual and charge them.”
Kleine couldn’t confirm Lenz's relationship with Koontz, though her mother Michelle told Channel 6 News he was an ex-boyfriend. She also said he attended her daughter's funeral. The Koontz family said they were thankful for the arrest, that it gives them "some closure."
Kleine said Facebook and social media played a role in the investigation. “It's a tool, in the course of many tools that they use. People communicate many different ways than they do 20 years ago.”
Kleine said it's a tragic and disturbing case of two young lives forever changed. “You have a 16-year-old whose life was taken, left and laying in a creek and a 16-year-old who we are charging in being responsible for that death. So it's very disturbing.”
Court records reveal Lenz has been in trouble with the law before. He was charged with disorderly conduct last October. In March, he was charged with possessing one ounce or less of synthetic drug K-2 or marijuana.
The Koontz family tells Channel 6 News they still can't believe the news. Police are waiting for the full autopsy results. They hope that will reveal how she died and perhaps answers questions about why she was under the bridge.
Melanie was a 16-year-old girl with a bright future. She did well in class and had an infectious smile.
Melanie was confident enough to mingle with the various high school cliques.
But somehow she ended up dead in the Cole Creek. She was discovered on Tuesday morning and now her family is coming together to find a way out of the unbearable sorrow they feel.
Melanie's family and close friends have pulled together in this tough time, supporting each other and drawing strength from the group.
In school Melanie is described as a classroom leader with an independent streak.
Benson High Principal Anita Baldwin gave reporters a glimpse into Melanie's popularity.
Anita Baldwin says, "She was an outgoing, gregarious young lady and she had the capability of bringing people into her fold and talking with them and moving onto someone else without hanging onto one specific group."
There are still a number of unanswered questions about what happened to Melanie and how she ended up in the Cole Creek.
Her family has some theories but don't want to mess up the police investigation. Other answers may come from the autopsy or toxicology screen.