Summary: The 2008 kidnapping and murder of Denise Amber Lee and the systemic flaws in the 911 system which contributed to her death. Florida passes the Denise Lee Law to set voluntary standards for 911 systems in the state.
Denise Amber Lee was kidnapped from her home in North Port, Florida at around 2:30pm, Thursday, January 17, 2008. By 4:38pm, a message had went out over the law enforcement messaging system giving the details of the kidnapping. By 5:02pm, a BOLO (Be On the LookOut) had been issued describing the possible vehicle in which Lee had been transported from her home. Within roughly four hours after being kidnapped, at 6:14pm, Lee surreptitiously placed a 911 call from within the vehicle which was received by Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. It is this sequence of events which author Michael Benson relates with precision and clarity. It is this sequence of events that are the most horrifying related to the murder of a young mother of two and one very smart woman.
As a reader, you would hope everyone who works in a 911 center reads this book.
If you do not know what goes on in a 911 center, the first part of A KILLER’S TOUCH will be an eye-opener. Benson treats all parties involved fairly, from the 911 dispatcher who handled the call to the supervisors who ignored the urgency to pass the call along, to the Sheriff’s Office itself. Of course in reading the transcript of that call, a reader may be less generous and less forgiving. If the victim’s call and subsequent mishandling by the 911 center is infuriating, the call by a woman driver who hears Denise Lee crying for help in the car next to her is even more maddening.
Unlike most true crime books, A KILLER’S TOUCH focuses on the investigation of the kidnapping, murder and the trial. In this case, the trial is for a thirty-eight year old non-entity named Michael King. Benson does not give us a portrait of Michael King and what little we do get gives us no hint as to why he would single-out Denise Lee, kidnap and kill her. What Benson does give us is a more than cursory picture of how the law functions in the face of what can only be called an incompetent response to a life and death situation.
While we never learn why or how Michael King selected Denise Lee as his murder victim, we do learn what his excuses were for his aberrant behavior. It should be noted that King never admitted to the murder. His defense materialized from the shock of his family and friends. Benson gives a detailed account of King’s “trauma to the head” at a young age defense. It was possibly the only defense King’s lawyers could offer. Toward the end of the book, Benson reports on the view of Lon Arend, one of the state prosecutors in the case. Arend summed up the pivotal facts of the defense pretty succinctly based on his experience. Did Michael King suffer an enfeebling head injury as a child that made him a paranoid ticking time bomb. Probably not. But even if he had, the injury would not nullify the fact that he killed.
Benson’s reporting on the trial and the legal maneuvering on both sides may be too much for some readers, not enough for others. However, in this book, reporting on the mechanics and minutia of the legal system blends perfectly with the specific emphasis upon when and how institutions of the law are engaged upon occurrence possible illegal conduct. The event, the key that unravels the scroll of subsequent events in the Denise Lee kidnapping and murder is the 911 center–calls from both the victim and witnesses.
There is one glaring inconsistency in Benson’s book however. Minor in and of itself, but important. He reports upon the condition of the house when the husband of Denise Lee, Nate Lee, first enters the house after returning from work and discovering that his wife is missing. At one point, Benson says the house is excessively hot so Nate Lee turned on the air-conditioning. At another point, the authors says that when detectives entered the house it was excessively hot inside. It is not a major inconsistency and could be explained by the fact that the information is coming from two or more different sources. It is up to the reader to decide the temperature condition of the house.
This book is highly recommended.