Samuel Wyndham Reager has been in custody since August 2015 when he shot FWC Officer David Brady and then tried to run him over with his own patrol boat.
PANAMA CITY — A Michigan man convicted of shooting a fish and wildlife officer and then attempting to run him down with his own patrol boat to finish the job is now looking at life behind bars.
Samuel Wyndham Reager, 20, was convicted Friday of attempted first-degree murder of an officer, armed robbery and a lesser offense of trespassing. He has been in custody since August 2015 when he shot Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Officer David Brady and then tried to run him over with his own patrol boat. Reager then stole the FWC boat with his co-defendant, 22-year-old Lachlan Akins, and ran it aground before the two were swept up in a massive manhunt in the Cove neighborhood of Panama City. Reager could now face life in prison when he is sentenced March 22.
Jurors deliberated about three hours Friday after hearing closing arguments at the end of the four-day trial.
Reager declined to testify during the trial. He stared blankly into the distance while listening to the verdict. His family could not be reached for comment.
Both sides of the courtroom sobbed after hearing the verdict; Brady’s family cried tears of joy while Reager’s family shed tears of grief. Prosecutor Larry Basford said the outcome should send a message to anyone
“After 917 days, justice has been served in this case,” he said. “This defendant will now face life in prison for attempted murder of a law enforcement officer.”
Prosecutor Peter Overstreet told the jury in his closing arguments that Reager had a motive and had been identified as the shooter consistently by Brady despite suffering from two gunshots.
“The truth is in that sun tattoo,” Overstreet told the jury, referring to a picture of Reager in a hospital bed after the shooting. “The truth is in that sandy-blonde hair. That’s the man that shot officer David Brady.”
Overstreet told jurors that Reager had a warrant for his arrest from his home state of Michigan when he came to Panama City Beach months before the shooting. Earlier in the trial, Akins told the jury that as the two men were en route to Bay County Reager said he would return “in a body bag” rather than go back to jail.
“After shooting Brady and putting him in the water, Reager was hunting him,” Overstreet said of when Reager tried to run over Brady with his FWC boat. “Reager was doing everything he could to end that threat.”
Reager’s defense attorney, Joseph Kwlatkowski, argued in his closing that while Reager was present he was not the shooter. The case he presented to the jury was that authorities got the wrong man and then — to cover up a botched investigation — manufactured a case against Reager and gave Akins the “deal of century” in the form of five years’ probation in exchange for his testimony.
Kwlatkowski said the prosecution’s case boiled down to Akins, who was incentivized to lie on the stand, and Brady, who had been in “shock and trauma” in the aftermath of being shot in the line of duty.
“They had a predetermined outcome,” Kwlatkowski told the jury. “They believe they have their man and abandon an objective, fair investigation. ... They say Reager targeted Brady, but it’s the government that was targeting Reager.”
In the final day of trial, Reager’s defense attempted to demonstrate that Brady’s account was flawed by showing incomplete descriptions of the suspects circulated after the shooting.
Bay County Sheriff’s Office investigator Stephen Rhinehardt, however, testified there was a clear description of the shooter crackling over the radio waves of Bay County about 30 minutes before Reager’s arrest. A massive manhunt had just gotten underway about 4 p.m. Aug. 7, 2015, in the Cove neighborhood of Panama City. And the call came out before any officers other than Brady had seen the two suspects, Rhinehardt said.
“We had a description of our shooter,” he told jurors. “It was white male, sandy-blonde hair, sun tattoo on the shoulder.”
Prosecutors showed jurors pictures of the two men with distinctly different appearances. Akins had dark hair with no visible tattoos on his upper body while Reager had blond hair with a tribal sun tattoo on his left shoulder.
Paul Mosier, a Cove resident, testified to discovering the two men in his garage not long after law enforcement had their description. When he came upon Akins and Reager, he locked them inside his garage as he alerted officers searching the area. He then heard a loud banging before the sound of glass shattering, Mosier said.
“It was numerous attempts,” Mosier told the jury, “as if they kept banging it until it finally broke.”
Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Ben Weaver, an officer of 14 years, said he had been on his way home from his shift when he heard the call of “officer down” and responded to help in the search. He heard the banging near the garage and glass shattering. Then Weaver saw a man later identified as Akins fall from a garage window.
“As soon as he hit the ground, he got up and took off running,” Weaver said.
Several other officers were around with guns drawn and gave chase while yelling for Akins to stop. After jumping two fences, Akins surrendered.
Reager’s defense attorneys attempted to show Akins was so desperate to get away that he dove from a 10-foot-high window and ran from officers with guns drawn. They highlighted Reager stayed behind while Akins fled.
“That’s desperation,” Kwlatkowski said. “That’s consciousness of guilt.”
BCSO Sgt. Jeff Bennett, an officer of 18 years, testified he also was near the garage when he heard glass break and saw Akins fall from the window. As he started to give chase, Bennett said he looked up to see Reager looking down from the same window.
“I yelled for him to show me his hands,” Bennett said. “That’s when he disappeared.”
Bennett then got keys to the garage from Mosier and opened the door to make eye contact with the other suspect. Later identified as Reager, the man first attempted to flee upstairs but surrendered seconds later.
Prosecutors argued that Reager didn’t run because he had no other choice.
“He saw what just happened to Akins,” Overstreet said. “He had officers’ guns drawn on him. He wasn’t going anywhere.”
While Reager’s defense attempted to discredit the testimony of Brady and Akins, Overstreet told the jury that one witness was incapable of lying or being inaccurate: DNA.
In the upstairs of Mosier’s garage, officers found a 9-mm pistol with Reager’s blood on the grip and touch DNA on the trigger. Reager’s blood also was on the throttle of Brady’s boat, where investigators found a spent shell casing that was fired from the 9-mm handgun. Another spent shell casing, collected from the sailboat Akins and Reager had been aboard, likewise matched up with the pistol.