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SC inquest jury agrees with suicide ruling

By Jeffrey Collins

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, April 12 2012 7:50 p.m. MDT

Brenda Cranford, left, and her lawyer, Michael McMullen, right, listen as the verdict is read during a coroner's inquest in Chesterfield, S.C. on Thursday, April 12, 2012. The six-person inquest jury determined Cranford's son, Tyson "Lane" Lowery committed suicide in November.

Jeffrey Collins, Associated Press

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CHESTERFIELD, S.C. — Jurors at a rare coroner's inquest in Chesterfield County agreed Thursday with investigators who ruled that a 34-year-old Army veteran committed suicide in his home last November.

Six jurors heard less than an hour of testimony and deliberated about 15 minutes. Investigators told them gunshot residue was found on Tyson "Lane" Lowery's right hand, the autopsy determined he was shot in the head by a gun placed against the right side of the head. A note threatening suicide that was found at his estranged wife's hair salon also was read into evidence after the jury was told it matched Lowery's handwriting.

But Lowery's mother, who hasn't accepted the suicide ruling, said she expected the verdict.

She noted that Darlington County Coroner J. Todd Hardee, who presided at the hearing, never called anyone to testify who ran into Lowery the day he died except for those who were in his wife's hair salon on that Nov. 18. She said he was on the phone with her making plans for her to babysit his two children and made a date to play golf with a friend as he ate breakfast at a restaurant.

"I expected this dog-and-pony show. There was nothing interjected from anyone outside the official circle here in the county," Brenda Cranford said.

Lowery's estranged wife, Jennifer, refused to talk to a reporter after the hearing.

Only a few coroner's inquests occur each year in South Carolina. Evidence is presented to the jury, but rules on what can be presented are looser than in a criminal trial.

Jennifer Lowery testified her husband came to her hair salon the day he died. Even though they were divorcing, he often stopped in because he ran an exterminating business from her salon.

A shop customer said Lane Lowery was cordial before sitting down and starting to write. He left the paper in the shop when he left. Jennifer Lowery testified she read just the first line: "No wake, no funeral. Cremation only."

She said she didn't think anything of it until she got a call from Lane Lowery threatening to kill himself. A Chesterfield County deputy was in the shop getting his hair cut and agreed to drive her to her husband's home to check on him.

Lowery said she called her husband as they drove and finally got him on the line.

"I was begging him not to do this to his children. And the only thing he said to me was 'look what I have already done to them.' And he hung up," Jennifer Lowery said.

Jennifer Lowery and the deputy found the body near the car port. A deputy coroner testified the only obvious injury was a bullet wound to the head.

The pathologist who performed the autopsy didn't testify in person, but submitted a sworn statement saying the gun that fired the fatal bullet was pressed against the man's head. She said there was no doubt this was a suicide.

And then there was the note Lane Lowery wrote and Hardee read into evidence. In it, Lowery called his wife the love of his life, but talked about pain from their relationship.

"You can quit hurting me and I couldn't hurt you anymore. Thanks for the times we shared, even though they were so bad. Remember to tell my kids I was just very hurt," Lowery wrote.

Lowery's mother said she wanted other than the Chesterfield County Sheriff's Office to handle the case. Lane Lowery's defense attorney has a stack of phone records showing numerous calls and texts to another deputy in the sheriff's office who was leaving his wife. Cranford said the involvement of the second deputy who drove Lowery's wife Jennifer to the scene makes it even more suspicious.

Cranford tried to call her son at about the same time he died. Jennifer Lowery testified she was trying to get to the house and that she only told Cranford that Lane Lowery had picked up her phone my mistake and she was trying to return it. Cranford said her daughter-in-law was not crying and she didn't hear a siren in the background. None of that evidence came up at the hearing.

Cranford also wants to see the original suicide note still with the State Law Enforcement Division, not the copy presented Thursday.

Lane Lowery had just re-entered his mother's life. They became estranged 16 years ago, when Lowery married his high school sweetheart and joined the U.S. Army. When his marriage began falling apart, Lowery reached out to his mother. She remembered the exact date — Oct. 18.

She wasn't ready to talk about next steps after Thursday's verdict. But she said she won't stop asking questions.

"It's the least I can do for him now," she said.

Collins can be reached at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP

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