Sunday, April 6, 2008

New claims dog a murder suspect

Man accused in Lee slaying had a sordid past, witnesses allege in newly released documents

SARASOTA COUNTY Before Michael King was accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering North Port mother Denise Lee, witnesses allege he committed a series of sex crimes that went unreported at the time.

According to documents released by state prosecutors Friday, King exposed himself to women, kissed and bragged about sexual relationships with underage girls, and raped his friend's wife when she was passed out drunk, witnesses told investigators.

Police also uncovered more evidence linking King, 36, to Lee's murder, including women's underwear and men's clothing near a pond close to where Lee was found buried. King was wet and muddy from the waist down when police arrested him.

Authorities also found a 9-millimeter brass bullet casing near Lee's body, the same caliber as a gun owned by King.

Not included in the 900 pages of police reports, transcripts and materials compiled by investigators is any indication of how or why King might have targeted Lee.

Police have not reported recovering a murder weapon.

The materials became public after prosecutors gave them to defense lawyers as part of the legal cases against King, of North Port.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty on a first-degree murder charge.

They are also pursuing a separate kidnapping and rape case against King.

Other key evidence was not released Friday, including any statements King made after his arrest. King's lawyers want a judge to review those statements, citing a section of state law that says records are not public if they reveal the substance of a confession of a person arrested.

The defense has not been given the records and did not know what the statements contained. Assistant State Attorney Lon Arend said he did not interpret any of the statements King made as admissions.

Also, a recording of the 911 call Lee made while reportedly trapped in King's vehicle was not released. Arend said a recording of that call is not public because it contains admissions from King.

Police believe King abducted Lee, 21, from her Latour Avenue home on Jan. 17 while her two young sons napped, raped her, shot her once in the head and buried her in wooded area of North Port near Interstate 75.

King was arrested at 9:16 p.m. by Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Eddie Pope as King attempted to access Interstate 75 near where Lee's body was found.

Included in the records released Friday was a statement reflecting the desperation law enforcement officials felt that night after Lee, the daughter of a Charlotte County sheriff's sergeant, called 911 from King's cell phone at 6:15 p.m. begging for help.

Lee's call set off a frantic search that culminated with Pope screaming in King's face: "Where's the \[expletive\] girl? Listen to me. Where's the \[expletive\] girl?"

While the records show police have amassed a considerable amount of evidence against King, including telephone records that seem to help corroborate their time line for the kidnapping, rape and murder, they also chased a lot of dead ends.

One person called to say that Lee's father-in-law, Mark Lee, owned Performance Mortgage in Englewood, and thought there might be a connection to King because his house was in foreclosure. But detectives found King got his mortgage elsewhere.

But other witness statements compiled by investigators paint a disturbing image of King and could help prosecutors as they attempt to portray King as cold-blooded killer and sexual predator.

A woman contacted after the murder told investigators that King had raped her about two years earlier and bragged about having sex with underage girls.

The woman told investigators that King, her husband's friend, sexually assaulted her after she had passed out drunk at his house.

Another woman told police that about a year before the murder, King stopped his plumbing work and exposed himself to her while she was breast-feeding a baby in the car outside a hair salon.

She immediately looked down and told the salon manager.

The woman who reported that King had raped her said she and her husband went to King's house in January 2007 to find King and two other men discussing "how they had, and still were having, sex with young girls."

The woman said King was talking about taking drugs and drinking, and said there were several teenage girls who would come to his house for parties.

King referred to one girl as a "strawberry blond, with a thin build," the woman told investigators.

King told her he carried a gun everywhere.

Employees at a Venice hair salon told investigators that about six months before the murder, King brought in a girl who was about 15 years old.

They thought she was his daughter until the pair started kissing, and King had the girl sit on his lap while he got his hair cut.

King told one employee that he met the girl on the Internet and picked her up in Tennessee.

There was no explanation in the documents as to why the alleged crimes were not reported to police.

The investigative material included the recording of a driver's cell phone call to Charlotte County's 911 center reporting a dark-colored Camaro with a desperately screaming passenger, described as a child. Charlotte County did not dispatch an officer to search for the car.

Another driver also identified King as the man he saw on U.S. 41 when hearing screams of "Help! Help!" coming from King's car. North Port resident Shawn Johnson saw the car on U.S. 41 near the Charlotte County line, but did not call police.

A lab previously matched King's DNA to DNA found in Lee's body, according to court documents filed by the prosecution. A trial date for King has not been set.

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