Love can be so unpredictable. Gentle, caring.
Or it can also be a passionate fire, out of control, scorching what it touches, and consuming the lives of the lovers pulled back for more.
Such was the romance, and its fate, at the heart of our story. It’s a story told, in part, through a raw and shocking videotape which captures the most private of moments. Two lovers on a long weekend that would end in death.
Tara Bentley: They loved each other as much as they seemed to hate each other. As much as they loved to argue.
Tara is talking about the toxic love affair which had consumed her sister, the head-turning Lesa Buchanan, 35. They had grown up together, Lesa the younger of the two, in Dayton, Ohio.
Tara Bentley: One of the memories I have of her is just she was always wanting to fight for the underdog and fight for the people that she cared about.
Lesa married and had a daughter named Jessie, but wanted more.
She began modeling, often for a Cincinnati photographer named Gary Kessler.
Gary Kessler: Lesa was great. She was very vivacious and bubbly and full of life.
And she had big plans.
Gary Kessler: Lesa wanted to write movies and star in movies and she created a script. Lesa just had a lot of hopes for the future.
And so she divorced her husband and left Jessie with her ex, while she set out to conquer Hollywood.
After enduring a succession of odd jobs and rejections, Lesa headed for the center of another kind of fame. She went to Nashville.
And that's where Lesa was in January, 2000.
It’s odd, that a woman so young, so lovely, would be attracted by a plastic surgeon's ad for a free consultation.
Christ Koulis: She was very vivacious. She was alive. She had a great sense of humor.
The doctor’s name is Christ Koulis [pronounced like “Chris”].
Koulis was, to all appearances, quite a catch. He'd breezed through medical school in Nashville, set up a very successful practice there. Though his first encounter with Lesa was professional, it certainly didn't stay that way for long..
Keith Morrison, Dateline NBC: What'd she say about him?Tara Bentley: She met this great guy, of course, and he was a doctor. And she was happy.
And the money? Well, that was no small thing to Lesa.
Gary Kessler: Lesa was always looking for someone who could further her career.
But as anybody close to her could see, Lesa was truly in love, or certainly seemed to be.
Tara Bentley: I think Christ could absolutely be very charming. He absolutely could. He was very knowledgeable. Very intelligent.
They were a very handsome couple. He moved her into a lovely Nashville home, where they soon discovered that they were nitro and glycerin when together.
Tara Bentley: It became pretty normal from that point on for there to be fighting and then a gift and fighting and making up.
There was that time, Tara remembers, when she and her mother took Lesa away for a few days of girl time. And the phone never stopped ringing.
Tara Bentley: I finally just grabbed the phone and told him that he was ruining my vacation. And he had to leave her -- he had to stop calling.
Of course, Lesa was constantly checking up on him, too.
Tara Bentley: She called him. He called her. And I think that over time it became a two-way street.
According to her sister, there was good reason for Lesa to keep tabs on her boyfriend.
Tara Bentley: I absolutely remember instances when Lesa would find e-mails. Or she would find ads that Christ had put online on dating sites. She knew that he wasn't faithful and yet, somehow, she still was drawn to him.
By summer, 2005, Koulis had moved to Chicago. Lesa was embarking on a career as a children's book writer and puppeteer. Since her return from Hollywood, she had been sharing custody of her daughter with her ex. Now Lesa took Jessie back and the two moved to Franklin, a charming old town outside of Nashville.
Morrison: Your chemical attraction to each other was really the only thing that you had at that point?Christ Koulis: That was part of it. And there were still remnants of a relationship where we cared about each other.
It was the July 4 weekend, 2005, when it happened.
Lesa complained of a headache.
Christ flew down from Chicago to spend the weekend.
On the morning of July 4, he was in the kitchen, getting breakfast, when Lesa called him to the bedroom.
Christ Koulis: And I sat down next down to her. And I put my hand next to her over here on her cheek. Said, "Honey, what's wrong?" And she just stopped all of the sudden.Morrison: Stopped?Christ Koulis: Her eyes became fixated. You could tell that something was wrong and she rolled back. Her lips turned pur – she -- I realized she wasn't breathing. My god. And I slapped her. Maybe not the best medical thing to do. But, I mean, you know, "Honey, what's wrong?" she wouldn't respond. I felt for a pulse. Lesa was not breathing.
He called 911.
911 operator: Sir, what's going on in 1705 Cold Springs?Koulis: Well, she just stopped breathing.911 operator: OK.Koulis: She's blue.
Paramedics did what they could on the way to the hospital. ER doctors struggled for almost an hour.
They could do nothing. Lesa died.
She was a young, apparently healthy woman now lying on a slab.
Christ Koulis: I keep asking that question to the ER doctor. Why? I don't get it.
Soon that question, “Why?” was contagious. Nobody got it. A detective came snooping around and very quickly decided that Christ Koulis was giving answers that did not add up.
Eric Anderson: The things that were found at the apartment were strange. His information was strange. The facts of the matter were strange. Everything about it was very odd. It raised a lot of red flags with us as investigators.
Bad news has a way of barging into life uninvited.
Tara Bentley: I was about 10 minutes down the road when my cell phone rang and it was my mom. And she was crying. She was saying that Lesa was gone.
She was 35 years old and healthy. And suddenly, she was dead. Why?
Before long ER doctors found a clue: six evenly spaced injection punctures, in a hard place to reach, the doctors told detective Eric Anderson.
Eric Anderson, detective: They were in the pubic area in the groin. Parallel with the femoral artery. And they appeared fresh.
Nobody had to tell the detective what that meant. I.V. drug use.
She was a mother, clean cut.
Tara Bentley: There was never any indication that Lesa was addicted to drugs.
Besides, Christ Koulis, her plastic surgeon boyfriend, told the hospital -- insisted, actually -- that Lesa had not used drugs.
Christ Koulis: Specifically, what I told the ER doctor, they asked me was, “What medication was she taking?” I told him hydrocodone and Xanax.
Lesa had used the pain killer hydrocodone for relief from her migraines and Xanax, to counter anxiety. Neither one would have killed her.
So why did the autopsy point to the startling fact that yes, Lesa's death was related to I.V. drugs?
Something didn't add up, especially when paramedics reported what they had noticed at Lesa's apartment.
Eric Anderson: The syringes in the sink, the large number of medical samples.Keith Morrison: Something was going on there.Eric Anderson: There was more to the story than we were getting on the front end.
For one thing, there was something Koulis had said to police back in the ER.
Eric Anderson: He basically said, "I’ve been down this road before.” We found out -- digging into their past -- this was not something out of the blue for him. This was not something out of the blue for Lesa to be involved in.
It was three years earlier, in May, 2002, when police were called to a Kentucky hospital where Lesa had been rushed for a severe infection brought on by I.V. drug use. Deputy Bobby Pate was called in to investigate.
Deputy Bobby Pate: Her mother told us that her boyfriend OD'd her, shot up a bunch of shots. Was telling us about sores and stuff all over her body, and things that he did to her that was wrong. And that we needed to do something about it. Get him off the street.
It would turn out that Lesa had gotten hooked on injecting the pain killer Demerol. It was a habit, police discovered, that she'd been introduced to by her doctor boyfriend, Christ Koulis.
It was in one of their hot romantic periods. They went on a two-month drug spree.
Deputy Bobby Pate: She was telling us the main reason he kept her drugged up -- because it kept her nice and naked.
Koulis had decided to kick his habit and had left for rehab far away in Arizona. Lesa stayed behind. The next day, she was rushed to the hospital with a severe infection caused by her drug injections.
Still, as Lesa recovered, Koulis had reached out, sending her a letter saying it was all his fault. It was an effort, he said, to help her retain rights to her daughter.
Even so, police encouraged Lesa to press charges against Chris since he'd provided the drugs and injected them into her bloodstream.
And then, a lawyer representing Lesa contacted the authorities. This was a lawyer paid for by Koulis.
Deputy Bobby Pate: Her lawyer called me and told us that she had no longer wanted anything to do with the Koulis case.
No one was surprised to discover that Koulis and Lesa were back together again.
Deputy Bobby Pate: I think he had his mitts back on her, and started controlling her again.Tara Bentley: He absolutely did everything he could to convince Lesa that if she testified against him, that she was going to go to jail. Or that she would lose Jessie.
So several weeks later, Lesa checked into the same rehab Koulis had been to. And he paid for that, too.
Tara Bentley: Christ could threaten you and then offer to save you all in one breath.
Christ did not escape the incident unscathed, however. He was convicted of unlawfully supplying Lesa with drugs in Kentucky. Three years later, at the time of Lesa’s death in July, 2005, he was still on probation.
That incident was enough to send the police back to Lesa’s apartment, where they found the bedroom had been a very busy place that weekend.
Eric Anderson: Various sexual paraphernalia and devices that seemed odd, to say the least.
Investigators found a staggering number of prescription medications, for everything from migraines to depression, and then needles. Syringes.
Eric Anderson: We found syringes in the trash bag in a bathroom closet. That's not normal.Keith Morrison: As if they'd been hidden away?Eric Anderson: Absolutely as if they'd been hidden away.
And even more disturbing, why were some of the syringes filled with a potent and highly addictive mixture?
Eric Anderson: Those were found to contain the suspect material, the compound that had the oxycodone that was the proximate cause of her death.
Oxycodone is a notoriously addictive pain killer, much stronger than the hydrocodone Lesa used for migraines.
Oxycodone was legally accessible to very few people beyond medical professionals.
The oxycodone in Lesa’s apartment had been ground up and mixed with a saline solution so it could be injected into that hard-to-reach spot on Lesa’s groin.
Eric Anderson: Is it possible that someone could inject themselves in the femoral artery in the groin? Certainly it's possible. Is it probable? Not very probable.Keith Morrison: What did that say to you, as you investigated?Eric Anderson: It said to me that someone else did it to her.Keith Morrison: Most likely who?Eric Anderson: Most likely the last person to see her alive.Keith Morrison: The doctor?Eric Anderson: Yes.
Had Koulis administered dangerous drugs to Lesa? In Tennessee, that would make him liable for her death.
Or maybe Lesa did it herself, without Koulis's help -- or even his knowledge. There seemed to be no way to prove anything.
That is, until one last discovery in Lesa’s apartment: a video tape of Christ and Lesa, shot the weekend of her death.
And what was on that tape was not only pornographic and shocking -- it was damning, too.
Eric Anderson: What we're seeing is her demise on videotape.
"It was certainly not what I expected," detective Eric Anderson told NBC's Keith Morrison. "It was a little much."
A little much? The two-hour video tape in Lesa Buchanan’s apartment was not for the faint of heart. It was a glimpse through a forbidden window into the wild sex life of an outwardly wholesome young couple.
Koulis: I told her she looked gorgeous, she should be in movies. We were kind of kidding. And she asked me, "Would you like to film this?" And I agreed to it. This video tape was a one-time thing, it was new thing for us.
What remained was the record of a lurid weekend of sex. But a few telling things did happen that were crucial to the case handed over to prosecutor Kim Helper.
Kim Helper, prosecutor: On three occasions in the video, you can see Lesa Buchanan holding gauze to the groin area. And in fact, on one of those occasions, Christ Koulis is saying, "Put pressure on it." Which I think is a very clear indication that he knew exactly what had happened and was involved in it.
If he supplied the drug, if he injected her, he had committed a very serious crime in Tennessee.
Kim Helper: If the person dies because you gave them bad drugs or because you injected them unlawfully with the drugs, then if a jury finds, you're guilty of second-degree murder.
And, given the drug misadventure in Kentucky that had nearly killed Lesa three years earlier, it seemed to the prosecutor there was a pattern to this.
Kim Helper: So when you're looking at the case you're saying, wait a second. It happened once before. It's now happened again. And Lesa Buchanan has died.
So, Christ Koulis became -- in the eyes of police -- a murder suspect. But Koulis insisted he had nothing to do with Lesa's drug death, or with any drugs for that matter. He'd been clean since rehab three years earlier.
Christ Koulis: I was enrolled in a voluntary advocacy program, a five-year advocacy program. And that program required that I take between three and four random urine tests a month.
Out on bail, the doctor tried to return to his medical practice and life in Chicago.
He was devastated not by the investigation, he said, but by the loss of the woman he loved.
Christ Koulis: I recorded on a micro cassette recorder her voice off her telephone greeting. Morrison: Why?Christ Koulis: A memory of her. Trying to hold on to her. Trying to hold on to something about her.
While he grieved, he steadfastly denied any responsibility for her drug use or her death.
Christ Koulis: It's sad. It's horrible. But, I was appalled that I’m being held responsible for her actions.
Police searched Koulis' Chicago apartment. There they found lots of medical samples and small syringes. A typical discovery in a busy doctor's home, perhaps.
But they also discovered the very same kind of large syringes that had been used to shoot up the dissolved Oxycodone pills.
Eric Anderson: I think it just reinforced our theory that he was directly involved with her death.
Yet it was just a theory. Police could find no identifiable fingerprints on the actual syringe that delivered Lesa’s last injection.
Even so, Koulis remained in the crosshairs. He found himself explaining the couple's drug addiction back in 2002 when Lesa had had her first brush with death, ashamed he had been the one to start shooting up with Demerol.
But Lesa, he said, was a willing participant, along for the ride.
Christ Koulis: She asked me what it was. I told her what it was. She said, "What did it made you feel like?" I told her. She says, "I want some also."
At first Koulis says he gave her the shots, but it went on from there.
Christ Koulis: She learned how to do it herself. And then she, she was very adept.
Fearful of losing her daughter if her addiction was exposed, he says, Lesa had refused to go to rehab, as he had done. But he insists he did not abandon her.
Christ Koulis: I contacted her mother and a friend of hers, and I told them I think they need to come over and be with Lesa, because Lesa was refusing to go to rehab, and she needed someone around her.
Lesa's family says that's a lie, but on one thing they all agree. Was that relationship volatile? You bet.
Keith Morrison: Why would you want to go to a relationship with a woman who you know is really not that good for you, nor you, probably, for her, since you seem to set each other off?Christ Koulis: You're probably right, that we probably were not compatible. There's things I saw in her, beneath the veneer, and there was good, and there was creative, and there was wonderful.
But Lesa, said Koulis, was troubled by hidden demons.
For a time, a couple of years after the Kentucky incident, Lesa and her daughter moved into Koulis’s place in Chicago.
But soon afterwards, says Koulis, “I found Lesa in the master bedroom.”
Christ Koulis: And she was trying to inject herself. And I asked her, "What the hell are you doing?" I was furious. Keith Morrison: Had she told you before that she was no longer using?Christ Koulis: Yes. I mean, I had just worked so hard to rebuild my life.
Koulis claims he was astounded that she was injecting her own concoction of oxycodone and solution.
Keith Morrison: You didn't introduce her to those crushed pills?Christ Koulis: No. This was her own new idea. Morrison: How did she find the syringes and the needles?Christ Koulis: Those are available. Those are available online.
Koulis says the price for their steamy affair was becoming too costly.
Christ Koulis: I made a mistake in 2002. Everything thereafter was an attempt to get back to it, to prove myself that I was not doing that again, and that I could be trusted to be a physician and rebuild my life.
He says he gave her an ultimatum.
Christ Koulis: “You can stay with me, and I’ll get you help. Or you're out of here. Choose." She left the next day. She left the next day, and she went to Tennessee.
Yet several months later, once again, the long distance romance rekindled. Koulis maintains he never again saw or knew of Lesa’s drug use, but there were signs on a visit a month before her death.
Christ Koulis: I told her family she had marks on her, and that she was clearly using I.V. drugs again.
That was a conversation Lesa’s family says never happened.
Christ Koulis: I also understand that her family had a very hard time accepting that Lesa was an active, I.V. drug addict.
To hear Christ Koulis tell it, Lesa’s death that July 4 weekend was the sad but self-inflicted result of a terrible secret.
Christ Koulis: She basically told me that she was going to do it. That's what she wants to do.
The state of Tennessee was not so sure.
Which is why, on the September 13, 2007, Dr. Christ Koulis went on trial, in lovely old Franklin, Tenn., charged with second-degree murder in the death of Lesa Buchanan.
The courthouse in Franklin, Tenn., is normally a rather sleepy place.
But for this trial, the place was abuzz with media.
They talked about the beautiful woman, the handsome plastic surgeon accused of supplying and injecting the shot that triggered her, and death.
(In court)Kim Helper: This defendant unlawfully distributed schedule two drug oxycodone. And that drug caused Lesa Buchanan's death. Thank you.
The defense was just as adamant that Lesa’s death, while tragic, was not the good doctor's fault.
David Raybin: There's no direct evidence that Christ Koulis distributed any drugs to Lesa Buchanan on the fourth of July that caused her to die. There's no circumstantial evidence that he did so. He's not guilty. Thank you.
The figure of Christ Koulis seemed rather unimposing, flanked there in the courtroom by his attorneys. But the prosecutors wanted jurors to see another side of Koulis: the doctor who controlled Lesa, in part by providing ways to keep her youthful good looks. She and a good friend had both benefited from his efforts.
Kim Helper: Did he give both you and Lesa injections of Botox?Buchanan's ex-wife: Yes.
At the same time, said her family, he also played on Lesa’s insecurities.
Tara Bentley: He just went straight across the circle of all of us and just went right up to her and started pointing at her forehead. He's like, "Oh, my gosh. I've got to fix those lines. Those lines are showing up again." And it just took every-- all the laughter right out of her face.Peggy Roberts: Christ used money to dangle the carrot. You know, “I’ll help you do this. I'll help you do that.”
Yes, Koulis had shown concern for his beautiful girlfriend, but the prosecutors suggested that as she lay fighting for her life, he wasn't concerned enough to tell ER doctors the truth.
Prosecutor: Did Mr. Koulis tell you whether or not he observed any kind of I.V. drug paraphernalia or anything in the apartment?Dr. Steven Ragle: No. When we discussed I.V. drug use, he said he thought she was clean and that there was nothing in the house to perform those acts with.
Of course there had been.
Jurors saw photos of the copious store of needles and syringes found lying in full view in Lesa’s apartment.
So if Koulis was lying about that, what else was he lying about.
What about those symmetrical needle tracks?
Prosecutor: Did you have an opinion as to whether or not those marks were reflective of self injection?Dr. Steven Ragle: I felt that those marks were placed by someone who knew the anatomy of the area.
Someone, the state inferred, who could have been a doctor. The state also tried to tie the oxycodone in some of the syringes to Koulis. Witnesses testified that oxycodone was difficult to obtain.
Kim Helper, prosecutor: Can you tell the jury what the level of difficulty would be for someone who was trying to buy Oxycodone online?Juan Morales: It is pretty difficult, because most people that are looking for that type a drug know the DEA monitors that drug, or the sale of it. So it is fairly difficult.
So how did Lesa get it? Koulis, of course, the state suggested.
The state argued that Lesa's body had been so ravaged by drug abuse that oxycodone, supplied and injected by Koulis, pushed her over the edge.
The medical examiner testified about the pre-existing damage to Lesa’s lungs caused by injecting crushed up drugs.
But he testified that long term usage wouldn't have killed her that day. It was the oxycodone that triggered her death -- the oxycodone that the state claimed was supplied and delivered by Christ Koulis.
Kim Helper: So we're clear, is it your determination based on your experience that the cause of death in this case, that but for the injection of the oxycodone, Lesa Buchanan would not have died?Dr. Tom Deering: That's correct.
The case rested on who had provided that injection. As the courtroom sat in hushed silence, the state then showed the steamy sex tape, hoping it would provide enough of a clue. The most important moment was the one captured after Lesa Buchanan had received what may have been her last injection.
Koulis was right there with her.
Det. Anderson: And number 2-19. You see miss Buchanan, with her hand upon the gauze on her left groin area and the defendant positioned above her -- looking downward.
There could be no doubt, said the prosecutor, Koulis knew what she was doing.
But was it he who supplied the drug, he who injected it moments before this scene was recorded?
Lesa Buchanan and Christ Koulis had both been willing partners in an emotionally charged affair. The state claimed Koulis had been the one who was toxic, causing the death of lovely Lesa Buchanan.
But of course, there was another side to that story.
Was Lesa really a victim?
David Raybin: This case is about sex, drugs, and murder, and a fellow with an MD at the end of his name. She used him for money and services. And he used her for sex. It was a fair exchange, ladies and gentlemen, fair exchange.
On cross examination, the defense pressed one of Lesa’s best friends, about a remark Lesa had made.
Mr. Offman: Well, what did you mean by, "Christ is coming into town; it's time to pay the rent?"
Buchanan’s ex-wife: She said it, I didn't. So--
Mr. Offman: You have no idea what she's talking about?Buchanan’s ex-wife: I would say she was making a joke about having sex.
Lesa's reliance on Koulis for money was well known, but her iv drug use was a carefully guarded secret, kept from family and friends. The defense insisted a stunning woman like Lesa did not need Koulis to help her get drugs.
David Raybin: Look, she's a gorgeous woman. It's no problem at all to go into a bar and get as much of that stuff as you want.
As for the evidence, the defense called it all smoke and mirrors, purely circumstantial.
There was nothing concrete at all, said the defense, to link Koulis to the drugs or the injections. In fact, his fingerprints were nowhere to be found, not anywhere on the syringes in question.
Oakley McKinney: My findings were, "The examination revealed the pres -- failed to reveal the presence of identifiable prints."
But even more crucial was the medical testimony, because defense experts blamed Lesa’s death on her own habit, her long-term drug use -- not on that one last shot of oxycodone.
Mr. Offman: Just to be clear doctor, in your cause of death scenario, does the controlled substance, oxycodone play any part in Ms. Buchanan's death?Dr. Graham: It does not.
But what jurors wanted to hear was what really happened that last weekend, from the only living person who knew.
Christ Koulis: I loved Lesa. I believe she loved me. It wasn't a perfect relationship. But I wanted to be with her.
Koulis admitted he came down to Franklin for a party weekend with Lesa, well-equipped with needles and syringes. But he told the jury the ones he brought were for a very different purpose.
Defense attorney: What was the point of it, the purpose of it?Christ Koulis: It's a great thing to talk about in open court. It's for erectile dysfunction.
It wasn't until part-way through the weekend, claimed Koulis, he discovered she was still using.
Christ Koulis: I walked in and Lesa was prep -- was on the toilet seat, just a little back, and she was preparing to inject.Defense attorney: Tell me what you said -- what you said, not her.Christ Koulis: I told her, "Do you have to do that? I thought we were having a great time, we were having a great time together. Why do you have to do that?"
He claimed he urged her to stop. He claimed they argued about it.
Christ Koulis: The gist was -- had to do with the fact that it was her house, as opposed to August of '04, and if I didn't want to be there, I didn't have to. And the gist was also that, you know, just because I couldn't do it doesn't mean she can't do it.
And as for the incriminating scene on the video: in fact, the tape would never show any of the actual injections, nor who delivered them. Koulis insisted he wasn't the one who'd injected Lesa, but rather was trying to minimize any damage caused by the shot she had given herself.
Christ Koulis: At that point, what am I supposed to do? I mean, she's already -- she's injected it. Hold pressure so it won't bleed. And she did.
He admitted he knew that just by being there while she was using, he was putting at risk everything he was working to rebuild after his own rehab.
Defense attorney: Now, Dr. Koulis, why didn't you just leave?Christ Koulis: Aside of the fact I’m an idiot?Defense attorney: What?Christ Koulis: Aside of the fact I’m an idiot? Because, I loved her and I wanted to be with her. I wanted to be with her. I should have left, should have stopped her. I didn't. And I wanted to be with her. So, I stayed.
But if he had nothing do with Lesa’s drug use that weekend, why lie to the ER staff trying to save her?
Christ Koulis: I didn't stop her. Just being around it, in my mind, made me guilty of something, and in my mind made me -- that I’d be violative of probation and I’d go to jail, lose my license, something. So, I told them that she didn't inject that day, which was true. But, I did not tell them that she'd inject the day before -- which I should have.
All this happened as the woman he claimed to love lay dying.
Defense attorney: And so, Christ Koulis was thinking about Christ Koulis. Is that right?Christ Koulis: Yes, I was.
Was Christ Koulis just a man whose only crime was putting his own self interest above those of his lover?
Hardly, claimed the prosecutor, in her closing.
Kim Helper: I would submit to you that the proof really shows that this defendant liked Lesa Buchanan nice and naked. And he came down for a weekend of sex. And when she wasn't feeling well, he gets out his little black bag and injected her with drugs. And Lesa Buchanan died at the hands of this defendant. Thank you.
But the defense insisted Koulis was guilty of nothing but a checkered history and poor judgment.
David Raybin: What he did was disgraceful and wrong. And it's a shame because the testimony is that he's a good doctor. But when it came to that woman, he was nuts. And when it came to him, so was she.Lee Offman: And the evidence does not show that he gave the pill. There's no proof he brought them or he injected her with the pill. There's no proof he did it. And because of that, you’ve just got to find him not guilty. Thank you.
Lesa Buchanan’s family sat uneasy through the Christ Koulis trial.
They listened in quiet rage to the doctor's testimony.
Tara Bentley: It matters that he lied about Lesa. It matters that he is willing to sacrifice her memory after everything else that he's put my family through.
Without concrete physical evidence, the state's case had been difficult to prove.
Kim Helper, prosecutor: I believe that the state had a very strong circumstantial case. Would I have loved to have a photo of him holding the needle? Absolutely. But, ironically, the videotape was always off during the injections.David Raybin: There was no way that a rational jury would convict this guy of murder. I was concerned they might convict him of reckless homicide. They might fall back on that.
The state had charged Koulis on several counts. While a conviction of second-degree murder carried a sentence of 25 years, a guilty verdict on a lesser count of criminally negligent homicide could mean less than a year in jail.
Tara Bentley: It's not even about justice. It's about finding a reason.
The jury remained out little less than a single day before they returned with their verdict.
Judge: As to count one of the indictment, on the charge of second degree murder, what say you?Jury foreman: Not guilty.Judge: As to count two of the indictment, on the charge of reckless homicide, what say you?Jury foreman: Not guilty.Judge: As to the charge of criminally negligent homicide, what say you?Jury foreman: Guilty.Judge: Very well.
Koulis had been convicted of the least severe of the homicide charges. The more serious ones were rejected. Lesa's 16-year-old daughter Jessica was inconsolable. For the family, it was simply stunning. It felt like a defeat.
Tara Bentley: It was like every emotion of losing Lesa again. But this time, it felt like the world was watching.
For Koulis, the verdict was almost a reprieve.
Christ Koulis: And when they said "not guilty" it was a huge sense of relief. And when they said guilty to-- to the negligent homicide, I didn’t agree with it but I understood how they came to that. Morrison: So, what's your biggest mistake here?Christ Koulis: Perhaps that I stayed. I felt it was my responsibility to stick around with her. That eventually she'd come around and she'd stop and we'd get her help. Or we'd part. But at least I was not going to abandon her in that situation.
Dr. Christ Koulis would ultimately be sentenced to two years in state prison, but he was allowed to remain free, pending an appeal. There are currently restrictions on his medical career in Illinois and he has lost the right to practice in Kentucky or Tennessee. For Lesa Buchanan’s family, though, the restrictions did not go far enough.
Tara Bentley: You just hope that, if nothing else, that he won't have his prescription pad to do it to the next woman. That there'd be one less weapon at his disposal.
Once, on the outside, they had seemed the perfect couple: the lovely blonde and the successful doctor. But as every plastic surgeon knows, appearances can be deceiving.
Death has a way of outing secrets no one would want to be remembered for.
So now, Lesa’s family tends to more positive ways of honoring the life that mattered to them.
Keith Morrison: What do you want people to think about your sister?Tara Bentley: More than the fact that she ever posed for a picture, that she ever did any acting or ever did any singing or any writing, she was a mother. And she was a sister and she was a daughter and that is where she truly shined in her life.
She had people that loved her. And she had family that she loved.
Lesa Buchanan's family is suing Chris Koulis in connection with her death. He is contesting the suit. He is is also facing charges in Kentucky that he violated probation. A judge will decide if Koulis should serve time for that.