Murder of Denise Amber Lee

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Public Safety Answering Point, where 9-1-1 calls are handled

Denise Amber Lee was murdered by Michael King in the U.S. state of Florida on January 17, 2008, after he had kidnapped and raped her earlier in the day.

Lee and several others had attempted to call for help through the 9-1-1 system but there was a lack of communication and the police and other emergency services arrived too late. Five 9-1-1 calls were made that day, including one by Lee herself from her abductor's phone and one from a witness, Jane Kowalski, who gave a detailed account of events as they unfolded before her. Failures were later found in the way the 9-1-1 operators handled Kowalski's call and further failures were later identified nationwide in the 9-1-1 system.

The Denise Amber Lee Act was passed unanimously by the Florida Legislature on April 24, 2008.[1][2] This act provides for voluntary training for 9-1-1 operatives. Lee's family continue to lobby for a new law, called simply Denise's Law, to be passed; this would recommend mandatory training and certification for all 9-1-1 dispatchers. The Denise Amber Lee Foundation was established in June 2008 to promote such training as well as to raise public awareness of the issues involved.

Michael King was sentenced to the death penalty.[3]

Denise Amber Lee[edit]

Denise Amber Lee (née Goff) (August 6, 1986 – January 17, 2008) was born in Englewood, Florida. Lee was the daughter of Sgt. Rick Goff, of the sheriff's office in Charlotte County, Florida[4] and Sue Goff.[5] Not long after their first date, Lee's future husband, Nathan, bought her a $40 heart-shaped ring which she never removed. The ring would later become key evidence connecting perpetrator and victim.[4][6]

Michael King[edit]

Michael King (born 1971) trained as a plumber[7] but had been unemployed for several months prior to the crime and was facing foreclosure on his home in North Port. He is divorced.[8] He has a low IQ and family members described to the court how King had had an accident while sledding as a child; an expert witness described the subsequent injury as a "divot" in his brain.[6]

Crime[edit]

On January 17, 2008,[8][9] Michael King abducted Denise Amber Lee from her home. He drove her around, tied up in his vehicle, for quite some time; several people witnessed the journey. Later, King raped and murdered Lee and buried her in a shallow grave. Her body was found on January 19, 2008. King was later found guilty of kidnapping, sexual battery and first degree murder; he was sentenced to the death penalty and is presently detained awaiting execution.[3]

Nathan Lee was at work that Thursday (January 17, 2008); his wife, Denise Lee, was at home with their young children. She called him at 11:21 a.m., the last time the two would speak. Among the topics discussed was the nice weather: the couple decided that the windows should be opened at their home. She said she had already opened them. Nathan Lee arrived home around 3:30 p.m. to find the windows closed, his wife missing and the children home alone in the same crib. This prompted him to make his 9-1-1 call, the first of the day related to this crime.

A neighbor saw a car arrive at Lee’s home around 2 p.m. The car was later identified as Michael King's dark green 1994 Chevy Camaro.

Lee was bound and taken to King's home in North Port, Florida, where he set up what the prosecution in the trial referred to as a "rape room". Duct tape and other evidence was found in this room.

She was then taken to King's cousin Harold Muxlow's home, where King then borrowed a shovel, a gas can, and a flashlight. Lee was able to take King's cell phone while he was out of the vehicle and dial 9-1-1. Her desperate 9-1-1 call was released during the trial, which caused a lot of reaction by the public. The operator obtained information from Lee which later helped convict King. The call is several minutes long with Lee begging for her life saying “please” 17 times. She answered the call taker's questions while pretending to talk to King. Judge Deno Economou, the presiding judge over the murder trial, noted how unusual and rare it was to hear a murder victim’s last words. Prosecutors said later that Lee had given them their best evidence that she was taken against her will, she did not know her abductor and her subsequent murder was premeditated. Lee was unable to give her exact location.[10] Police were unable to trace the location of the caller (Denise Amber Lee) because it was made on a prepaid wireless phone.[11]

Around 6:30 p.m., a witness, Jane Kowalski, heard screaming from a car next to hers at a stoplight. Kowalski called 9-1-1 to report what she believed to be a child abduction.[12] The call was allegedly mishandled however, and no police were dispatched to the area by Charlotte County Dispatch.

Several BOLOs (Be On Look Out reports) were issued by the Florida Highway Patrol and the North Port Police Department to 6 surrounding counties starting at 4:59 p.m. However, Charlotte County Sheriff's Office deputies were unaware of the BOLOs. Police were never dispatched into the area where Kowalski had reported the sighting of King. According to the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office Internal Affairs Report #08-01-003 the Charlotte County Dispatch Center was understaffed. Deputies in the field testified they were not made aware of a green Camaro until 6:45 p.m. and only after Sgt Goff had listened to his daughter's call.

At some unknown time later, King shot Denise Lee in the head and buried her naked body in a 4 ft.deep hole. King then proceeded to bury other evidence in areas close by.

At 9:15 p.m., roughly six hours after Lee was first reported missing,[13] Florida Highway Patrol Officer Eddie Pope pulled King's Camaro over as King tried to enter I-75 from Toledo Blade and only a short distance from where he buried her.

Lee was found on January 19, 2008 off Toledo Blade, North Port, less than five miles from where Kowalski last saw her.

Trial[edit]

The trial of the State of Florida vs. Michael L. King officially began on August 24, 2009. Lead prosecuting attorney was State Assistant Lon Arend, lead defense attorney was Public Defender Carolyn Schlemmer. Presiding judge is Hon. Deno Economou, and the trial took place in Sarasota County, Florida.

The prosecution presented DNA and other forensic evidence, including hair and personal articles of Lee's found around and within the Camaro, King's home, and the grave site. Other evidence included King's change of clothing, duct tape, a shell casing, the shovel, and King's cell phone. The prosecution also called eye witnesses, including Jane Kowalski and King's cousin. The defense attempted to provide reasonable doubt by bringing to the jury's attention of evidence tampering and contamination, and by suggesting that one of King's friends had committed the crime. The judge did not approve of the latter defense. The defense rested without calling any witnesses.

On August 28, 2009 after deliberating for only two hours and five minutes, the jury found King guilty of kidnapping with intent to commit a felony, sexual battery, and first degree murder.[14] On September 4, 2009, at 2:45 pm, the jury handed down the recommended sentence of death,[6] in a unanimous 12–0 vote.[15]

The 9-1-1 calls[edit]

In total, five 9-1-1 calls related to Lee's disappearance were placed by five different people between 3:29 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on January 17, 2008.[16][17] Four were routed to operatives in Sarasota County, Florida; the other— placed by Jane Kowalski and the fourth in the sequence— was routed to operatives in neighboring Charlotte County, Florida. The one routed to Charlotte County was allegedly mishandled.[18]

Nathan Lee placed the first call at 3:29 p.m. after he became concerned that his wife was missing from their family home, leaving their children home alone. Nathan Lee said, "My kids were in the house and I don't know where she is". This call, along with her father Sgt. Rick Goff's intervention, resulted in a countywide search for Lee. The search was eventually widened to include neighboring counties.

The second call was placed by Lee at 6:14 p.m. from her abductor's cellphone. This call was presented by the state prosecutors as part of the key evidence at King's trial.[14] Lee had left the line open as she spoke with King. She had attempted to cause King to implicate himself and had surreptitiously dropped clues into the conversation for the listening operatives as she spoke.

At 6:23 p.m., Sabrina Muxlow— daughter of King's cousin, Harold Muxlow— placed the third 9-1-1 call. She was concerned that King appeared to have a girl tied up in the back of his vehicle. She said, "He came over to my dad's house" and "borrowed a shovel, a gas tank, and something else". Sabrina Muxlow explained further that when Lee had tried to escape "my dad's cousin went and put her back in the car".

Jane Kowalski's call was placed by cellphone at 6:30 p.m. while she was driving on U.S. Route 41.[18] "I was at a stoplight and a man pulled up next to me and there was a child screaming in the car", she said. She explained further that she heard "terrifying screaming" and that she had "never heard anything like that". Kowalski believed that she was witnessing a child abduction. She also identified the car as a Camaro but stated the color as blue (rather than green). She stated that she had made eye contact with the driver after which "a hand came up and started banging on the passenger window". Since she had crossed the county line into Charlotte, the call was routed to that latter state's 9-1-1 call center. It was only after she saw the news the following day that she realized she had witnessed the abduction of Lee rather than that of a child. When she called the North Port Police Department to explain who she was and that she had made a 9-1-1 call, it became apparent that the call had not been forwarded to the correct authorities. It is this call that is alleged to have been mishandled due to the fact that the operatives neglected to file it correctly.[18] This call was also presented by the state prosecutors as part of the key evidence at King's trial.[14] Although Kowalski’s call lasted 9 minutes and included cross streets, Charlotte County Dispatch failed to dispatch a car. Furthermore, the dispatcher did not enter Kowalski’s information into the CAD until 6:42 p.m., twelve minutes after Kowalski's call had begun.

The final call was placed by Harold Muxlow at 6:50 p.m. He was vague in his account and attempted to hide his identity, but later investigations revealed that he was indeed the caller. He said "[I am] not sure exactly what the emergency is" but explained that he felt that some one had been taken: "It didn't look like she wanted to be there". He confirmed that his cousin had borrowed a gas can, a shovel, and a flashlight; he was told, he stated, that these were to be used to fix a broken lawnmower stuck in a ditch. During the call, Muxlow said he had seen a woman in the car struggling with King; the woman had got out of the car at one point and shouted "Call the cops" to which King replied "Don't worry about it" as he pushed her back into the vehicle and drove off. Muxlow testified during the murder trial and gave crucial evidence identifying the voice talking to Denise during her 9-1-1 call as Michael King.

Denise Amber Lee Foundation[edit]

Due to Jane Kowalski's mishandled 9-1-1 call, more research revealed several issues countrywide in the 9-1-1 system, so a non-profit organization with the mission to "To promote and support public safety through uniform training, standardized protocols, defined measurable outcomes, and technological advances in the 9-1-1 system." was established in June 2008 in Lee's name.[19] Her husband, father and father-in-law continue to manage the Foundation, along with many other notable community leaders from the region.

Subsequent Florida State Law[edit]

On April 24, 2008, the Senate Bill, CS/SB 1694, concerning the Denise Amber Lee Act, which provides for voluntary training for 9-1-1 operatives, was passed unanimously by the Florida Legislature.[1][2] The Act's passage into state law continues.[20][21]

House Bill CS/HB 355[22] and Senate Bill CS/SB 742[23] are being considered at present in Tallahassee to address the fact that 9-1-1 operatives in the state are not required to undertake mandatory training.[24] Lee's husband Nathan Lee and her father Rick Goff continue to lobby in Tallahassee to get Denise's Law passed, which would recommend mandatory training and certification for all 9-1-1 dispatchers.

A separate bill, sponsored by Representative Robert C. Schenck, that would place significant limitations on 9-1-1 calls when played in public, is being considered by the Florida Legislature. The Lee family has spoken against this bill.[25] The Governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, has said that he is "not favorably inclined toward the bill".[26][27][28] The bill was later dropped.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "CS/SB 1694–911 Emergency Dispatchers [SPCC]". Florida House of Representatives. Retrieved March 5, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Lee, Carol (April 24, 2008). "'Denise Amber Lee Act' clears Senate". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Retrieved March 1, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b Brahney, Marisa (Dec 4, 2009). "Michael King sentenced to death". NBC-2 News Online (WorldNow and WBBH). Retrieved March 1, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b Murphy, Dennis (June 7, 2008). "The detective's daughter (transcript of Dateline episode)". Dateline NBC. msnbc.com. pp. 1–6. Retrieved March 1, 2010. 
  5. ^ Eckhart, Robert (August 28, 2009). "Michael King found guilty of first-degree murder of Denise Lee". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Retrieved March 1, 2010. 
  6. ^ a b c O'Neill, Ann (August 28, 2009). "Jury: Death for man who murdered cop's daughter". CNN.com (Cable News Network). Retrieved March 3, 2010. 
  7. ^ Anon (September 4, 2009). "Jury recommends death for kidnap, killing". UPI.com. United Press International, Inc. Retrieved March 1, 2010. 
  8. ^ a b Staff Reporter (January 20, 2008). "Denise Amber Lee shot and tossed in a shallow grave". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. pp. 1–3. Retrieved March 1, 2010. 
  9. ^ Anon (February 19, 2009). "Denise Lee Kidnap-Murder". Dispatch Magazine On-line. Retrieved March 10, 2010. 
  10. ^ Anon (August 25, 2009). "An emotional day two in Michael King murder trial". mysuncoast.com. WorldNow and WWSB. Retrieved March 1, 2010. [dead link]
  11. ^ Mullins, Richard (2009-02-20). "Prepaid phones hit and miss when using 911". The Tampa Tribune (Tampa Bay Online c/o Media General Communications Holdings, LLC). Retrieved 2011-02-04. 
  12. ^ Anon (August 25, 2009). "911 call from woman who followed Michael King released". mysuncoast.com. WorldNow and WWSB. Retrieved March 3, 2010. [dead link]
  13. ^ McCarthy, Barry. "Map of crime scene". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Retrieved March 3, 2010. 
  14. ^ a b c O'Neill, Ann (August 28, 2009). "Woman's frantic 911 call helps convict her killer". CNN.com (Cable News Network). Retrieved March 3, 2010. 
  15. ^ Carroll, Scott (September 4, 2009). "King should die, jury recommends". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Retrieved March 3, 2010. 
  16. ^ Anon (June 6, 2008). "Calls of distress". Dateline NBC. msnbc.com. Retrieved 7 March 2010. 
  17. ^ Avila, Jim; Furuya, Rena; Paparella, Andrew (July 23, 2008). "Are Botched 911 Calls to Blame for Denise Lee's Death?". ABC News (ABC News Internet Ventures). pp. 1–4. Retrieved March 7, 2010. 
  18. ^ a b c Anton, Leonora LaPeter; Meckler, Ilyce; Edds, Carolyn (April 18, 2008). "North Port mother died as deputies were left unaware". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved March 8, 2010. 
  19. ^ Zak, Sarah (February 18, 2010). "Murder victim's husband takes reform battle to the Senate". ABC (Scripps TV Station Group). Retrieved March 3, 2010. 
  20. ^ Vasilinda, Mike (Feb 17, 2010). "Denise Amber Lee Act Clears Committee". News Channel 7 (Gray Television, Inc). Retrieved March 5, 2010. 
  21. ^ Anon (Feb 16, 2010). "9-1-1 bill passes through first House committee". NBC-2 News Online (WorldNow and WBBH). Retrieved March 6, 2010. 
  22. ^ "CS/HB 355 – Public Safety Telecommunicators". Florida House of Representatives. Retrieved March 5, 2010. 
  23. ^ "CS/SB 742 – Public Safety Telecommunicators/E911 [SPSC]". Florida House of Representatives. Retrieved March 5, 2010. 
  24. ^ Bonfiglio, Jim (March 3, 2010). "Support bill that requires 911 training". bradenton.com (Bradenton Herald). pp. 1–2. Retrieved March 3, 2010. [dead link]
  25. ^ Kam, Dara (March 8, 2010). "Not all crime victims pleased with Fla. House speaker's bill to keep 911 calls off the air". Palm Beach Post. Retrieved March 10, 2010. 
  26. ^ Kam, Dara (March 9, 2010). "Crist not keen on keeping 911 calls secret". Post on Politics (The Palm Beach Post). Retrieved March 10, 2010. 
  27. ^ Merzer, Martin (March 10, 2010). "Proposal dials up debate on access to 911 calls". Florida AP (Miami Herald Media Co.). Retrieved March 10, 2010. [dead link]
  28. ^ Peltier, Michael (Mar 9, 2010). "Crist, House may be at Odds on 911 Call Privacy". West Orlando News Online. Retrieved 10 March 2010. 

External links[edit]

Official websites and relevant blogs
Further reading
Direct links to relevant Statutes, Laws, Acts and Bills
Note – The following are all formatted in PDF
  • "HB 997". Florida House of Representatives. Retrieved March 5, 2010. 
  • "CS/HB 997". Florida House of Representatives. Retrieved March 5, 2010. 
  • "SB 1694". Florida House of Representatives. Retrieved March 5, 2010. 
  • "CS/SB 1694". Florida House of Representatives. Retrieved March 5, 2010. 
  • "Denise Amber Lee Act enrolled". Florida House of Representatives. Retrieved March 5, 2010. 
  • "HB 355". Florida House of Representatives. Retrieved March 5, 2010. 
  • "CS/HB 355". Florida House of Representatives. Retrieved March 5, 2010. 
  • "SB 742". Florida House of Representatives. Retrieved March 5, 2010. 
  • "CS/SB 742". Florida House of Representatives. Retrieved March 5, 2010.