Wednesday, July 22, 2009

More in the Sun by Elaine Allen-Emrich

giant sigh

500 to be questioned as potential jurors in Denise Amber Lee murder trial

North Port Community News Editor

SARASOTA COUNTY -- Michael King's defense attorney argued Wednesday that police officers didn't have a search warrant when they broke into his home on the day of Denise Amber Lee's disappearance.

That was one of 30 pending motions 12th Circuit Judge Deno Economou listened to from both sides in King's hearing at the Sarasota County Courthouse. He is expected to rule on the motions in early August.

A jury trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 17 for King, 38, charged in the kidnapping, rape and murder of 21-year-old Denise on Jan. 17, 2008.

Motions included King's attorney Carolyn Schlemmer declaring "the death penalty is unconstitutional," the need to change the trial's venue, and officers not reading King his rights immediately after he was arrested, when he asked repeatedly for his attorney.

Schlemmer appeared in court with a clean-shaven King whose hands and feet were shackled. He wore a pale yellow jail jumpsuit.

King mostly looked forward at the judge throughout the five-hour hearing. One of the few times he spoke was to answer "yes" when Economou asked if he still wanted Schlemmer to represent him.

"He never made eye contact with me," said Nathan Lee, Denise's husband, who was in court with Denise's father Rick Goff and her brother, Tyler.

Schlemmer argued that on Jan. 17, 2008, North Port police officers should not have entered King's house without a search warrant.

In testimony Wednesday, North Port Detective Lt. Kevin Sullivan said King's neighbor told them they saw him pull into his driveway and park his car in the garage earlier in the day. When police arrived at King's Sardinia Avenue home, they reported hearing voices coming from the residence.

Sullivan ordered two officers to go into the house. Once inside, they saw, "in plain view," duct tape with strands of hair attached. King and Denise were not there.

Schlemmer said that evidence should not be introduced during the trial because it was illegally obtained.

Sullivan said police went inside the home after receiving two 911 calls, one from Denise and the other from King's teenage cousin, Sabrina Muxlow. Sabrina told police her father, Harold Jr., was concerned King may have been holding a woman against her will.

Schlemmer also argued that King would not get a fair trail and asked for the trial to be moved out of Sarasota. The defense asked residents in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties if they had ever heard of Michael King or Denise Amber Lee. Schlemmer called the results "disturbing."

"Some of the comments gathered were so venomous (toward King) they could not be repeated," she said.

Economou said he would consider Schlemmer's change of venue request.

The judge said if a "fair and impartial jury" of 11 people could not be found from 500 potential candidates, he would consider the change.

"I'm inclined to move forward with jury selection," he said.

Assistant State Attorney Lon Arend said Lee's family members requested to be in the courtroom during the anticipated weeklong jury selection in August.

Economou said there might not be enough space if even 100 potential jurors are in the courtroom at once. He said the candidates also might ask who the victim's family members are, and that could affect some jurors.

"I would suggest it be explained that (the victim's family members) have the right to be there," Arend said.

Schlemmer also argued that when King was stopped on Interstate 75 off Toledo Blade Boulevard, near the wooded area where Denise's body was later discovered, he asked for an attorney.
Sullivan said he introduced himself to King, who said he was also abducted. Sullivan said he asked King to show him where he was taken. King said he had a hood over his head and wasn't sure where he was taken.

Schlemmer objected to North Port detectives taking King on a "ride-along," searching for Lee while questioning him.

Officers said because King said he was a victim, they treated him accordingly.

The judge acknowledged that police read King his Miranda rights, but it was hours after a series of interviews with several different police officers.

Schlemmer said due to the delay, King's rights were "clearly violated."

During a break, Nathan said he plans to file a negligence lawsuit in September against the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office for what he calls a "botched" handling of the 911 call from the last witness who saw Denise alive, Jane Kowalski.

"I'll do it after (King's) trial," he said.

Another hearing is set for Aug. 10.