Saturday, December 5, 2009

Florida mom's killer, rapist found guilty - jurors recommend death penalty, judge hands it down

(Original Post 8-30-09)

The murderer of a Florida mother of two will face the same jury which convicted him last Friday to learn whether his death inside prison will come through an executioner's needle, or by natural (or inmate) causes. Thirty-eight year old Michael King, a plumber (or more accurately, former plumber) and dad of two, was convicted of the January 17, 2008 kidnapping, rape, and murder of 21 year old Denise Amber Lee, a detective's daughter, from her own home. The Florida Jury deliberated for 2 1/2 hours Friday, August 28 before finding Michael King guilty as charged.

Lee was kidnapped from her own home that winter afternoon after breastfeeding her sons. She made sure that the boys were left behind unharmed before King trained his gun on her.

Witnesses, including King's cousin, help determine the movements of King before and during the kidnapping. Jennifer Eckert, 24, saw the green Camaro King drove circle the neighborhood between 1 & 2 PM before King abducted his victim. Harold Muxlow, King's cousin, stated King stopped by his house to borrow a flashlight, gas can, and shovel. Muxlow also heard Lee say "call the cops" but King told his cousin it was nothing.

The most damming evidence came from calls Lee made after she grabbed her captor's cell phone. Like a detective's daughter, Lee used the phone to tell police that she was benng kidnapped.

Lee used one of King's cell phones to call 911 as she was driven across three counties. As the six-minute tape was played for the jury, her voice sounded tremulous at times, and frantic at others.
The call came in at 6:14 p.m. on January 17. A 911 operator repeatedly said "Hello," and Lee was heard pleading with her captor: "I'm sorry. I just want to see my family. ... I just want to see my family again. Please. ... Oh please, I just want to see my family again. Let me go."

The man, whose voice was identified in court as King's, cursed at her for trying to attract attention. A radio played loudly in the background. The 911 operator asked her address. Eventually, Lee managed to say, "My name is Denise. I'm married to a beautiful husband and I just want to see my kids again. ... Please, God, please protect me."

The 911 operator asked where she was, and then whether she knew the man. The operator asked if she knew her location. "Please just take me to my house. Can you take me home?" Lee said. The connection was then lost.

Sixteen minutes later, driver Jane Kowalski called 911 to report what she thought was a child abduction. She said she was stopped at a light and could hear screaming from another car "and not a happy scream, a get-me-out-of-here scream."

She testified that she saw someone banging on the car window, slapping her hand hard to demonstrate. "It was very loud," she told the jury. "It was completely horrific, terrified, panicky. I can't think of enough words, it was terrible."

She followed the car for a while, but lost it. Police quickly traced Lee's call to King's cell phone, and were looking for him. But Kowalski's call was never passed on to officers.

The victim took off of her wedding ring and pulled out her hair, leaving more evidence behind. Thar hair, blood, duct tape, and semen were collected from King's Camaro and his home and helped link the perpetrator to his victim. The defense never disputed that the rape and kidnapping occurred, but tried to absolve their client of the murder by stating only gun shells were found, not the actual weapon.

The death penalty phase of the trial will start Tuesday.

During that penalty phase, jurors will hear from King and Lee’s families.Two of King’s brothers will ask that he be spared the death penalty because he has no history of violence and he is the father of a 12-year-old boy.

Lee’s family, including her widower Nate Lee and her father Rick Goff, will ask that King be put to death. The men will talk about how Lee doted over her two sons, Adam, 2, and Noah, 3 1/2.
The jury will recommend a sentence, and the final decision rests with Judge Deno Economou, who will give a great deal of weight to the jury’s recommendation.

This is what the victim's parents had to say after the guilty verdict.

Susan Goff said "I just feel like a big weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. Justice was served." Rick Goff, the Charlotte County detective, said that "The next step we're going to go up there and watch him get the needle put in his arm -- sending him to the place where he belongs -- totally opposite from the place Denise is at. That's where we want him, and we can't send him there fast enough."

(Update 9-6-09) Florida jurors voted unanimously to send King to death row, taking less than three hours to do so. Jurors were not impressed by the defense's view that a childhood sledding accident damaged King's brain and caused poor impulse control. Jurors credited the 911 call by Denise and King's borrowing of tools needed to bury Denise after shooting her to death as factors in handing down the death recommendation.

Pat O'Quinn, one of the jurors, stated that "I think he gave her a death sentence when he got the shovel, and the flashlight, and the gas can." A second juror, Marcia Burns, stated that the evidence Denise left behind played a major factor. "I don't know a normal person would be able to do that. The family needs to be extremely proud." Jury consultant Art Patterson also agreed with Burns' assessment.

"You have a smoking gun. The emotion of hearing a woman plead for her life. They get comfort in knowing this guy was so horrible and they know for sure what he was doing to her."

King was described as a good father of a 13-year-old son, a good boyfriend and a good plumber, who led a life as a good citizen until one terrible decision.

Juror Jean Burgess said the decision to convict was quick and overwhelming; the decision to send King to his death was equally decisive -- but more difficult to make.

Nancy Bates, the victim's grandmother, stated that "Michael King is going to burn in hell. Forever and ever and ever." Rick Goff, the victim's father, stated that "I can't say enough. This is how the criminal justice system is supposed to work."

The death penalty vote is just a recommendation. King will be sentenced at a later date, but in Florida, judges are required to give "great weight" to a jury decision - something enhanced if that decision is unanimous.

(Update 12-5-09) King was formally sentenced to death by Judge Economou yesterday afternoon. In a hearing which went on for about half an hour, he weighed aggravating and mitigating factors. Aggravating factors which carried great weight included the murder being carried out after rape and kidnapping, being "especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel," which includes inflicting fear on the victim, and murders occuring in a "cold, calculated, premeditated" manner, and the murder occurred to eliminate a witness. 

Mitigating factors given moderate weight included that King was impaired due to a brain injury due to a sleeding accident back in 1978, and an IQ averaging around 80 and lack of previous criminal history. Mitigating factors given little weight included King being a responsible father and boyfriend, his divorce, and taking special needs classes as a minor.

The father of the victim said that justice was served in the case. "Justice is served. We had faith in the judicial system," Rick Goff, Lee's father said. "Without her, we'd still be looking for her, still be looking for him. She's the one that turned us onto him directly from her 911 call...I just want to tell Michael King you're a coward; you got what you deserved coming. And Denise is a lot better person than you and she's going to put you in the place where you belong, which I believe is hell, is where you're going to be."
Her mother, Susan Goff, said that King's death sentence would not give closure, but his execution would do so. "It isn't over. It won't be over until the day Michael King dies. That's the day we'll have closure."

Nathan Lee, Denise King's widower, said this in his statement below:

Today the man who kidnapped, raped and killed my wife, Denise Amber Lee, was sentenced to death. People have asked me if I'm happy about the sentencing. Happy isn't the right word. Whether he was sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty, that man's life is over. He can't destroy another family. That's justice for Denise and some closure for our family.

Denise should be alive today, going to soccer games, planning birthday parties and having date nights. But she's not and nothing is going to bring her back, which is something we have to live with every day.

We have some closure, and now we'll focus on making sure that Denise's death will not be in vain. Dispatchers on duty when my wife was killed failed to properly handle 911 calls that would have saved her life. Now I am working hard (through a foundation we started in her name) for a national standard in training, procedures and policies so that when you dial 911, you get the help you need.

Finally, I want to thank everyone, my family, Denise's family and our friends, for everything they have done to support and help us. I would also like to thank you, the media, for the respect you have shown to our family during this difficult time."

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