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Brandon Township grad appeals death penalty

November 09, 2011 - Two years after 1990 Brandon High School graduate Michael Lee King was given a death sentence, King has filed a direct appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.

On Sept. 9, the court heard oral arguments in the appeal, which is typical for every capital defendant, said Scott Browne, assistant Florida attorney general in charge of prosecution.

"The state has a very strong case against Mr. King," Browne said. "The tactic at trial was to deflect suspicion to (King's) shooting range partner."

King, 40, was convicted by a Florida jury on Aug. 28, 2009 of the murder, rape and kidnapping of Denise Amber Lee. A week later, the jury recommended a death sentence and Judge Deno Economou agreed to the ultimate penalty.

According to North Port Police Department reports, at about 3:29 p.m., Jan. 17, 2008, officers responded to the Lee home on the report of a missing person. Nathaniel Lee had arrived home at 3:20 p.m. to find his wife gone and their two sons, a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old, unattended. Denise Lee's purse, keys, cell phone and vehicle were still at the residence.

Three subsequent 9-1-1 calls were received— one at 6:14 p.m. from Denise Lee herself; a second at 6:23 p.m., from a woman who said her father just called her and told her that his cousin, King, had just stopped by in his Camaro and a woman who was tied up had gotten out of the car; and a third at 6:30 p.m. from a witness traveling southbound on U.S. Highway 41 who was at a traffic light when she said a Camaro pulled up on the left side of her vehicle. This third caller told 9-1-1 she heard screaming and saw the driver pushing someone down in the backseat of the vehicle. She also observed a woman's hand slapping the left passenger side window hard, as if trying to get out. As they approached the intersection of US 41 and Toledo Blade Boulevard, the Camaro suddenly changed lanes and turned onto the boulevard and was last seen traveling northbound on I-75. She later identified King as the driver and his Camaro as the vehicle.

At 9:16 p.m., a trooper spotted the green Camaro and arrested King, who was alone. A wet shovel was found in the backseat, as well as a ring belonging to Denise Lee.

On Jan. 19, 2008 her body was discovered buried in a rural area off of Toledo Blade Boulevard, close to the area where King was found by the trooper. Cause of death was a gunshot wound to her head. King's trial began Aug. 24, 2009. Four days later, after the prosecution had presented evidence including blood, semen, hair, and duct tape collected from King's green Camaro and his home; a shell casing found in the woods that experts linked to King's gun; and 9-1-1 tapes in which Denise Lee is heard begging for her life, the jury deliberated just two-and-a-half hours before finding King guilty.

In their most recent motions, defense attorneys argue that King should receive a life sentence, rather than the death penalty, citing his low IQ (in the 70s) and a sledding accident that caused a brain injury when he was 6-years-old.

Browne said assuming the Supreme Court affirms the conviction (a decision is expected before the end of the year), the next step is a post-conviction process that could take years.

"Unfortunately, we're not close to a resolution or execution yet," Browne said. "There is a process in place for pretty intense scrutiny on every capital case and it takes awhile to get through the system."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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