Press Accounts of Police and Court Proceedings

Press Accounts of Police and Court Proceedings
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09/03/04 Details surface in murder arrest but police do not talk about evidence
09/09/04 Friends remember vivacious woman who 'everybody liked'
09/04 Murder charge revives '97 case 
10/17/2004 From the Herald-Sun12/15/04 Attorney moves to suppress confessions
12/18/04 Police deception carries risks
01/09/05 Mother defends murder suspect

In the early morning hours of December 1, 1997, Debbie Key left a Carrboro, North Carolina bar and was never seen again.

In September of 2004, Carrboro police officers used dummy documents to lure suspected killer Andrew Dalzell into a confession. Dalzell was 20 years old at the time of the murder. According to authorities, Dalzell allegedly confessed to killing the 35-year-old woman.

The confession was later suppressed, with Judge Wade Barber ruling that the officers had violated Dalzell’s Miranda rights. Dalzell was released from the Orange County jail and remains free.

Debbie’s body has never been found.

Details surface in murder arrest but police do not talk about evidenceBy: SHANNAN BOWEN
Issue date: 9/13/04

For nearly seven years, Carrboro police had been trailing the man with whom Deborah Leigh Key was last seen on Dec. 1, 1997.

A break in the investigation finally came last week.

Andrew Douglas Dalzell, 27, formerly of Carrboro, was arrested Thursday and charged with second-degree murder after Carrboro police found evidence on Sept. 2 relating to Key's presumed death in his Carrboro residence.

There had been an ongoing search for probable cause to arrest Dalzell since Key's disappearance.

It was the last day of November, 1997, when Key, 35, had her final drink at her regular nightspot, Sticks & Stones, a bar then operating at 102 E. Main St. in Carrboro, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Key, who was a regular patron at the bar, was known as a friendly, sociable young woman. She also had a reputation of consuming large amounts of alcohol and leaving with people she barely knew after the bar closed, the affidavit states.

After the bar closed at 2 a.m., Key was seen by a bar co-owner in a nearby parking lot hugging a young man with a ponytail and a backward baseball cap.

A bar employee had noticed the same man massaging Key's neck and shoulders that night.

The man with Key was described as white and about 5 feet 10 inches tall, with blond hair worn in a ponytail, the affidavit states. He was believed to be underage for alcohol consumption, the affidavit states.

According to the affidavit, Key would always contact her mother if she was spending the night somewhere to tell her that she was safe.

Key never called her mother nor anyone else after the bar closed that night, the affidavit states.

On Dec. 1, Key's car was found, unmoved. A door was unlocked and her purse was on the front seat.

Key was presumed dead although her body was never found.

Four months later, Detective John Lau of the Carrboro Police Department was notified that a young man matching the description of the person last seen with Key was in Chapel Hill.

Lau and Special Agent John T. Hawthorne of the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation approached the man, who turned out to be Dalzell.

When questioned, Dalzell stated that he knew a woman named Debbie but did not know she was missing. Later during the questioning, Dalzell told officials that he had been told that Key had been missing for about a month and a half.

According to the affidavit, Dalzell first stated that he did not leave with Key on Dec. 1, 1997, and that he never visited the bar that late at night. But he later admitted that he was in the bar just before closing time, massaging Key's neck and hugging her in the parking lot, the affidavit states.

Dalzell stated that Key was too drunk to drive but that she did not leave the bar with him in his car.

Hawthorne requested a warrant to search Dalzell's 1990 Honda on April 3, 1998.

During the search, officials obtained two pieces of stained seat cover, hair and fiber tappings from the car interior, a woman's bra, a woman's panties and various papers, the affidavit states.

The findings were not enough to charge Dalzell with Key's disappearance or death, Lau said.

Lau said that, over the years, officials have kept tabs on Dalzell.

Dalzell's name surfaced a few weeks ago in connection with a separate incident, and police searched his Carrboro residence on Sept. 2, according to reports.

During the search, officials found evidence pertaining to Key's case. Police have released no details regarding the evidence.

On Wednesday afternoon, Carrboro police and officers from the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office executed a search warrant at a residence in Stanley, where Dalzell was staying with friends.

When Dalzell returned to the residence, he was placed under arrest on various charges including second-degree murder.

Dalzell is being held in Orange County Jail under a $60,000 secured bond. He is set to appear in court on Sept. 23.

Friends remember vivacious woman who 'everybody liked'

BY ANDREA UHDE : The Herald-Sun
Sep 9, 2004 : 10:43 pm ET

CARRBORO -- It's been seven years since Deborah Leigh Key vanished.
David Hurlbert's memory has rusted some, his long hair a tad grayer than before. He can't recall when his good friend's birthday was, or in which closet Halloween photos of the costume-clad pals have been tucked away.

For Hurlbert, the feelings aren't as raw as when the then-35-year-old Key disappeared and left little evidence of what happened that night in 1997. The feelings ebb and flow now, surfacing during random conversations or when watching the TV news, when the day's top story seems all-too familiar: a missing woman's dead body found.

Those are the worst days for Hurlbert and his wife Chris. They sit up and listen with the attention of a soldier, wondering if the reporter will say the name they can't forget.

Key's body still hasn't been found, but on Thursday, the feelings returned. Andrew Douglas Dalzell was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in the death of Key, who had been missing for seven years.

Hurlbert recalled seeing Dalzell in the Carrboro bar where Key was last seen Dec. 1, 1997, the night she disappeared. He said he's glad an arrest has been made. He's been as patient with the case as he could, he said.

But "as the detective said at the time, these cases take many years and eventually a break comes," Hurlbert said from his shaded porch in Carrboro.

However, the break in the case doesn't bring closure. "She isn't alive," he said. "I'll never see her again."

But the woman who fought her way through Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disease that paralyzed most of her body for many months, lives on in his memory, Hurlbert said.

He said he still chuckles when he thinks about the Grateful Dead concert he went to with Key in Greensboro. Key used a wheelchair at the time, so they were able to get close to the stage, he said.

They met through mutual friends, and Key quickly befriended the couple. She helped Chris Hurlbert choose a wedding dress, and she was a bridesmaid at the event.

"She was vivacious and someone who enjoyed life," Chris Hurlbert said of Key. "She was a fighter. That sums it up."
Joy Preslar worked at a daycare center with Key, and in their free time they'd dance and giggle in the crowd at AC/DC and other rock concerts. "She was the kind of friend you could call up and go, 'Hey let's go to the beach,' " Preslar said.

For Preslar, the pain of losing her friend hasn't subsided. "I think about her every day, really," she said. "It is very painful to not have her in my life anymore. It's more painful to think that someone did her harm.

"We've been looking for her -- not physically -- but we've been looking for her in our hearts," she said, pausing to sniffle.

"It is a shock to hear he's been arrested and that it's taken this long," she continued.

By 5 p.m. Thursday, calls started streaming in to Preslar's home. Every few minutes, the phone would ring, the sign of another friend in the old group calling to talk about news of the arrest. It was a sign of how many friends Key gathered during her life, Preslar said. "She was one of those people that everybody liked," she said.

As memories continued flowing, a call beeped through on Preslar's phone. She sighed softly. "It's going to be a long night."

Murder charge revives '97 case
Carrboro police apprehend suspect
Key was seen with a man about 2:30 a.m. Dec. 1, 1997.

By ANNE BLYTHE, Staff Writer

CARRBORO -- Nearly seven years after Deborah Leigh Key was last seen outside a downtown bar and pool hall, a man who had been a suspect in her disappearance and presumed death was arrested Thursday and charged with second-degree murder.

Andrew Douglas Dalzell was booked into Orange County jail, according to police. Investigators, who have questioned the suspect previously, arrested Dalzell after a search Sept. 2 of his Carrboro apartment and a search Wednesday of a Lincoln County home where he was staying with friends.

During the search Sept. 2, initiated on an unrelated matter, investigators discovered evidence they believed to be related to the Key case, police said. With that information, investigators obtained a warrant to search the Lincoln County home, where sheriff's deputies made the arrest without incident.

Investigator John Lau, who has been on the case in Carrboro since December 1997, when Key was reported missing, would release few details Thursday. He worried that making too much information public might hurt the case.

"I feel relieved that this person has been locked up, that we have made this arrest," Lau said. "This has certainly been one of the longest cases for me. It's been hanging over our heads. We'd pick up a lead and run with it to the end, and often that was a dead end."

Key, born Sept. 21, 1962, went missing on the last day of November 1997. She left her mother's Chapel Hill home and ended up at Sticks and Stones, a bar and pool hall that used to be on Carrboro's East Main Street.

Key had been at the bar for several hours, family reported in 1998, when a sandy-haired, round-faced man in his early 20s came in about closing time. He had a sketch pad with him, and regulars at the bar told investigators back then that on other occasions he had sat at the bar with a soda and roughed out sketches.

About 2:30 a.m. Dec. 1, 1997, Key was seen with the man in a bank parking lot a short distance from the bar, which no longer exists. They were standing between two cars, one of which was her gray 1990 Pontiac Sunbird.

Two days later, one of Key's friends called her mother to say the Sunbird was parked illegally in the bank lot.

Key's mother had not seen Key since Nov. 30, but it was not unusual for them to go several days without contact. Key was 35. Nevertheless, her mother went to the bank lot with an extra set of keys and moved the car.

Things didn't look right, Key's mother said in a 1998 interview. Her daughter's purse and jacket were on the front seat of the car.

After several more days passed without Key showing up, the family called police and reported her missing.

Public help was sought

Key was outgoing and had many friends. At the family's request, police did not go public immediately with the fact that Key was missing. But as weeks passed and nothing turned up, investigators turned to the community for help.

A police sketch artist worked with witnesses and issued a rendering of the man Key was seen with. Investigators asked for help identifying him.

Help came in, and investigators tracked down the suspect. They obtained a warrant in 1998 to search his 1990 Honda and collect several items. But the investigation was hampered, police said, because a lawyer had advised the man not to talk to investigators or take a polygraph test.

Investigators declined to say what they found in the Carrboro apartment this week that gave the case the new turn.

"Our hope is that this arrest will help to bring closure for all concerned," Chief Carolyn Hutchison said in a statement.

"Over the years, we have invested considerable efforts in this case. ... The immense satisfaction we all feel as a result of this arrest is, of course, tempered by compassion and sorrow for Debbie's family and many friends."

Joy Preslar, a musician and friend of Key's since 1985, experienced a range of emotions Thursday after learning of the arrest. Since December 1997, she has wondered about Key's whereabouts and fate almost every day.

"The not knowing has been very frustrating," Preslar said. "This has haunted everybody who knew Debbie because she was such a sweet, kind person.

"This gives it some finality in my mind. I had always tried to hang on to the idea that she might be back. Her friends and her family would like very much to be able to put her to rest. We want to learn about what happened to her."

Key's mother could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Staff writer Anne Blythe can be reached at 932-8741 or

By Susan Broili : The Herald-Sun
Oct 17, 2004 : 6:40 pm ET

CARRBORO -- People who love Deborah Leigh Key smiled through tears as the pain that never completely goes away eased a bit Saturday night. They gathered over the weekend for the first time since the September arrest of a suspect in Key's murder seven years ago. About 15 friends and family came together at the Jade Palace in Carrboro across the street from the parking lot where Key, then 35, was last since early on Dec. 1, 1997.

Key's sister, Susan Key Gagnon, became overcome with emotion and had to stop several times as she gave her family's first public statement since Carrboro police arrested Andrew Douglas Dalzell on Sept. 9 and charged him with second-degree murder in Key's death.

Dalzell remains in Orange County Jail under a secured bond of $90,000. "This is good news for the family," Gagnon said. "We are pleased that Andrew Dalzell has been charged and arrested for Deborah's murder. We appreciate the work and continued efforts of the Carrboro Police Department, Lt. John Lau and Anthony Westbrook, in particular," Gagnon said, from her prepared statement.

"We have spoken with [Orange/Chatham] District Attorney Carl Fox and we are confident that he and his team appreciate the magnitude of our loss and the horror of this crime. We have complete faith that Carl Fox will prosecute Andrew Dalzell to the fullest extent of the law. We will be working with him and his team to see that justice will be served," she said.

Gagnon asked Key's friends to attend the trial, which has not yet been scheduled, in order to show support. She needed no notes to talk about her sister and how much she was missed. "She had a very bright smile and she was very outgoing," Gagnon said. She also spoke of the everyday joys of life her sister would never experience again: "the sunset, the leaves turning ... motherhood" and of how losing her had affected her family. "The void in each of our lives is without measure. The pain is immense even to this day," Gagnon said. "We are devastated."

A real person

In the United States, close to one-third of all homicides go unsolved and, for every murder, solved or not, there is a real person who is forever missed, she added. "Deborah is not a statistic. She was my sister, a loving daughter and had many, many friends. She is missed every single day," Gagnon said in her statement. Friends spoke of feeling a range of emotions upon hearing that an arrest had been made in Key's death. "I felt relieved, [angry]. I took a deep breath and then I broke down and cried," Laurel Schwartz said. "I'm very, very glad they finally got him."

"We can finally go ahead and process the thing," Joy Preslar said, of how the arrest was helping Key's friends and family come to terms with what happened. Dave Hurlbert said that his initial impression of Dalzell had not been a good one when he had first seen the man in the Sticks & Stones bar at 102 E. Main St. in Carrboro, and Dalzell had been drawing "pornographic cartoons of women."

Some time later, Key had spent the evening of Nov. 30 into the wee hours of Dec. 1, 1997, at the same bar and had been seen there with Dalzell before she disappeared from the adjacent NationsBank (now Bank of America) parking lot. "I am certain she did not leave that parking lot willfully. She always took her purse with her," Hurlbert said. When one of Key's friends noticed her car still in the parking lot, her purse was found in the car.

Prime suspect

After police had identified Dalzell as the man last seen with Key, hugging her in the NationsBank parking lot on Dec. 1, 1997, they had considered him their prime suspect. But police were never able to come up with enough evidence to link him to her death until now. "They've been keeping an eye on him and waiting for him to do something stupid -- and he did," Hurlbert said.

In August, Dalzell called police and asked them to provide security for him as he moved out of his Royal Park apartment. While an officer was inside Dalzell's apartment, he noticed craft supplies and figurines and, after checking with Hungate's where Dalzell had worked, learned that those items had not been purchased.

Police charged Dalzell with possession of stolen goods and larceny by an employee. After further investigation, police charged Dalzell with six counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, the equivalent of possession of child pornography, and also with fraud for allegedly using another man's credit card to obtain access to a Russian mail-order bride Internet site. While investigating those crimes, police said they obtained evidence that Dalzell had killed Key.

Police have not publicly identified the evidence that led to the murder charge, and have not released any information about Key's remains. Key's friends would like some answers. "I want to know what happened and why. I want to know where she is so we can bury her properly," Liz Edwards said.

Happy memories

At the gathering, Key's friends raised a glass of wine in her memory. "Here's a toast to Deborah Leigh Key, who brought so much joy into all our lives," Hurlbert said. Her friends spent most of the get-together sharing good memories of Key as they looked through photo albums. "It's good to see the pictures and remember the good old days," Forrest Covington said. "She was just a lot of fun to hang out with."

Even though Key had been a country music fan, especially liked Patsy Cline and could sing a bit like her, she also enjoyed hearing Covington play classical music. "She loved to hear me play [Modest] Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition,' " he said.

Hurlbert recalled how hard Key had fought to recover from being completely paralyzed from Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and how she had done so in only six months after doctors had said it would take years. That she had beat the illness only to be murdered just "accentuates the tragedy," Hurlbert said.

Key was kind-hearted and loved people -- and animals. "We still have the stray cat she let into our house in 1996 after Fran," Hurlbert said.

Broken dreams

Laurel Schwartz remembered how Key had loved the Pittsburgh Steelers -- "she always wore a Steelers jacket" -- and the Penguins and had been a big fan of NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace. "She never met a stranger -- until seven years ago," Schwartz said. "We used to go and watch the sunsets at Jordan Lake ... and I sure do miss her," Schwartz said.

Edwards recalled how she and Key, who shared September birthdays -- Key's on the 21st, Edwards' on the 17th -- would celebrate by spending a week together at Topsail Beach. She still wears the sapphire ring Key once gave her. "She just was a loving person ... I still dream about her all the time," Edwards said.
It also saddens her that Key never knew Edwards' son Matthew, who is 7. "I wish Debbie could have known him. She loved children," Edwards said.

posted by - @ 10/18/2004 09:33:00 PM

Attorney moves to suppress confessions
By Beth Velliquette
The Herald-Sun
December 15, 2004 10:05 pm

HILLSBOROUGH -- A Carrboro police lieutenant testified Wednesday that he tried to trick Andrew Douglas Dalzell into thinking he was being arrested for first-degree murder by showing him a fake warrant and fake letter from the district attorney threatening him with the death penalty.

And Carrboro Police Chief Carolyn Hutchison, who has remained publicly silent about the situation, thought the plan to make Dalzell think he could be executed if he didn't immediately cooperate was "brilliant," the officer testified.

Lt. John Lau told the story behind his plan during a pre-trial hearing on whether to throw out the confession Dalzell made in September about the disappearance and death of Deborah Leigh Key in 1997.

Dalzell, 28, faces a charge of second-degree murder in connection with the death of Key, who was 38.

Key was last seen talking to and kissing Dalzell in a parking lot near a downtown Carrboro bar on Dec. 1, 1997. Dalzell confessed to strangling her and dumping her body in a Dumpster in Wilmington, according to testimony from two officers during Wednesday's hearing.

Dalzell's attorney, Orange-Chatham Public Defender James Williams, moved to suppress Dalzell's statements, which include an oral confession, a handwritten confession and a typed confession.

The motion claims police didn't follow legal procedure when arresting Dalzell because they didn't tell him the real reason why he was being arrested, and because they interrogated him before telling him he had the right to remain silent and ask for an attorney.

Superior Court Judge Wade Barber didn't rule on the motion Wednesday, saying it was a complex matter. He asked Williams and Orange-Chatham District Attorney Carl Fox to submit legal briefs, and he continued the hearing until Jan. 10.

Key's sister, Susan Key Gagnon, sat in the front row with her husband and Key's mother, Barbara Key.

Gagnon held an 8-by-10-inch photograph of her sister standing next to a Christmas tree throughout the hearing, hoping that Dalzell would see it. But Dalzell, who grew up in the Carrboro area, didn't appear to look at Key's family during the hearing.

The first officer to take the stand was Cpl. Seth Everett, who drove to Stanley with Lau and other officers to arrest Dalzell for three property crimes. Another investigator, Anthony Westbrook, had warrants accusing Dalzell of financial identity fraud, possession of stolen property and obtaining property by false pretenses.

The authentic warrants stemmed from allegations that Dalzell stole fantasy figurines, merchandise and a credit card number from Hungate's hobby shop, where he previously worked.

After arresting Dalzell, the officers put him into a police car, and Lau put a folded arrest warrant on the seat next to him. Even though Dalzell was being arrested in connection with the Hungate's charges, the warrant, which was a fake, said first-degree murder.

Lau testified that he came up with a strategy to make Dalzell think he was being arrested for the murder of Key. He said he instructed the other officers to tell Dalzell the truth about the real warrants if Dalzell asked.

But if Dalzell didn't ask, "we weren't going to volunteer it," Lau said. "That was part of the plan."

Williams asked Lau if he knew about a state statute that requires officers to tell people under arrest why they're being arrested as promptly as possible after they're arrested.

Lau replied that the law required him to tell Dalzell the reason for his arrest if it wasn't evident why he was being arrested.

"I believe he thought it was evident that he was being arrested for murder," Lau said.

Earlier, Lau said he consulted other officers -- among them Hutchison and the Carrboro Police Department's head of investigations, Jim Phillips -- about his plan.

"She thought it was brilliant," Lau said about Hutchison. "She thought it was a very good idea."

Lau also testified that he told Fox that he was going to draw up a fake first-degree murder warrant for Dalzell to see when they went to arrest him. "Our hope was that given the right set of circumstances, we could do this within the law and basically for him to give us a confession," Lau said.

Lau said he asked Fox for a copy of his official letterhead, but didn't tell Fox what he was going to write on it because he didn't know yet.

After arresting Dalzell in Stanley, Lau showed Dalzell a letter the lieutenant wrote on the stationery and signed using Fox's name. The letter said Fox was going to seek the death penalty against Dalzell and would not make any deals unless he led them to Key's body immediately.

On the drive back from Stanley to Carrboro, which took about three hours, Everett, Lau, another officer and Dalzell stopped at a gas station to get some fuel. As the other officers went inside to use the bathroom, Everett said he noticed that Dalzell, who had his hands cuffed behind him, appeared uncomfortable.

Everett said he received permission from Lau to move the cuffs. As Dalzell sat in the car, Everett saw that he looked very pale, and asked if he was all right.

Dalzell "started crying, talking about his mother and his family and his girlfriend," Everett said. "He stated his life was over as he knew it. He said he did not want to die, and I said I did not want him to die and that every life was worth a lot."

Dalzell spoke more about his mother and family, and Everett told him the best thing was to tell the truth about what happened. Then Dalzell made what Everett called "a spontaneous utterance."

"He stated he did not mean it to happen. It just happened. He took her body to Wilmington and put it in a Dumpster," Everett said.

After they got back into the car and headed to Carrboro, nobody spoke, but as they neared Carrboro, Everett asked Dalzell if he wanted to talk to him when they got to the police station, and he said yes, Everett said.

When they arrived, he and Dalzell went into an interview room, and Everett showed him the fake letter again, Everett testified.

"He started crying and talking about his mother and family again," Everett said.

Then Dalzell made a statement about what happened to Key, Everett said. After that Everett interrupted him and read him his Miranda rights. Dalzell signed a waiver saying he would agree to talk without an attorney present, Everett said.

Dalzell told more about what happened to Key, Everett said. Later that night, he wrote out statements by hand, and police let him use a computer to type a statement.

Later that night, Carrboro police charged Dalzell with second-degree murder.

Police deception carries risks
A judge will determine whether Carrboro officers went too far to obtain a confession
Kayce T. Ataiyero, Staff Writer
Published: Dec 18, 2004
Modified: Nov 04, 2005

On many TV cop shows, it's the ploy on which the plot turns: Police trick a suspect into thinking they have more evidence than they actually do, and he coughs up a confession that seals his fate.
But in a real-life case in Carrboro, this brand of bamboozling has raised questions about tactics investigators sometimes use when trying to get a suspect to talk.

Area lawyers and police are watching whether a judge will admit into evidence the confession of murder suspect Andrew Douglas Dalzell. Investigators used a fake murder warrant and a death-penalty warning on district attorney stationery to dupe Dalzell, 28, into thinking he was being arrested in the death of Deborah Leigh Key.

Dalzell actually was being arrested for obtaining property by false pretense, financial identity fraud and possession of stolen property. But Carrboro police officers used the dummy documents to deceive him. He subsequently confessed to killing the 35-year-old woman, authorities say. Key has been missing since 1997. Authorities have not recovered her body.

Chapel Hill Police Chief Gregg Jarvies said that his department discussed the case this week during a staff meeting. He said the deception that police use sometimes to get a confession can range from lying to making false documents to phrasing a question so as to confuse a suspect.

Jarvies, who declined to discuss the specifics of the Dalzell case, said the goal is to get suspects to admit they committed an offense, something they might not do without prompting. In some instances, he said, there is a fine line between what is acceptable and what is not.

"Where that line is seems to change from one case to the next," he said. "Like many things in the justice system, [the cases] are not black and white. Even the judge says it is a complex case."

Orange County Superior Court Judge Wade Barber could decide Jan. 10 whether officers acted within the law the September day they traveled to Lincoln County to charge Dalzell with stealing figurines from a Chapel Hill hobby store where he had worked.

Officers placed Dalzell in the back of an unmarked police car and put the fake arrest warrant on the seat beside him. Carrboro police Lt. John Lau later read the fake letter that stated authorities would seek the death penalty unless Dalzell told them where he disposed of Key's body. According to testimony, Dalzell became upset during a gas station pit stop on the three-hour trip back to Carrboro.

While being encouraged by Cpl. Seth Everett to "tell the truth about whatever happened" and "to be a man and let the demon go," Dalzell confessed. He blurted out, "I did not mean for it to happen. I just snapped and took her body to Wilmington," according to testimony.

Once at the police station, police testified, Dalzell made another statement before he was read his rights.

Statements challenged

Officers testified Wednesday that they did not interrogate Dalzell until they entered the interview room. Officers did not read Dalzell his rights during the trip from Lincoln County to Carr-boro. They said they waited until he was being formally interrogated to advise him of his rights.

Public defender James Williams is asking the court to suppress Dalzell's statements. Officers interrogated Dalzell before advising him of his rights, Williams charges, and the statements were obtained in violation of Dalzell's rights.

Carrboro Police Chief Carolyn Hutchison said Thursday that she had approved of the ruse and that officers did not break any laws. She said deception is regularly used in police work. The Dalzell case is unusual in that the deception was written rather than verbal, she said.
Published: Jan 9, 2005
Modified: Jan 9, 2005 6:12 AM
Mother defends murder suspect
Mullen describes son's troubled past

By KAYCE T. ATAIYERO, Staff Writer

Like a dutiful son, Andrew Douglas Dalzell would call his mom a couple of times a week to catch up on life. They would chat about his family, his girlfriend, his plans for the future.

But lately those calls have been coming daily -- collect from the Orange County jail -- to Juanita Dalzell Mullen's Pittsboro home. Her 28-year-old son has been sitting in a cell since September, charged in the killing of a missing Carrboro woman.

On Monday, a judge could decide at a pretrial hearing whether to throw out his confession in the death of Deborah Leigh Key. Deborah Leigh Key vanished and is presumed dead. Andrew Dalzell was last person to be seen with Key. "This whole thing is making him kind of nervous," Mullen said. "He doesn't have anything else to think about." Neither does she.

Since Key's 1997 disappearance, Mullen said both she and her son have been convicted in the court of public opinion. The verdict: He is a monster, and she created him. Mullen said she has spent the past seven years weathering criticism that has been blistering at times. "It's very upsetting. These people are assuming something they don't know about someone they know nothing about," she said.

After two miscarriages, one stillbirth and seeing one child die at 2 1/2, Mullen adopted Dalzell when he was 7 weeks old on the Eve of Epiphany, Jan. 5, 1977. She and her husband at the time, Michael, thought Dalzell was a prayer answered. The couple, who then lived in Durham, brought their new baby son, with his sandy brown hair and sea-blue eyes, to live in Chapel Hill when he was 10 months old.

Soon, their little bundle became a handful. As a child, Dalzell was someone his mother didn't understand and couldn't control despite her reading every book on child-rearing she could find. Mullen recalls trying to wean her toddler off his bottle and his incessant crying for two weeks until she gave it back. Soon afterward, he gave up the bottle on his own.

"I can remember going and locking myself in the bathroom until I calmed down," she said. "I would try to put demands on him, but I felt like he was always doing things in his own time."

A difficult childhood
By Mullen's own account, her son grew up to be a troubled young man. A bright, former special-education student with attention-deficit disorder, Dalzell bounced from school to school and class to class trying to find his niche.

Early in his childhood, she said, he suffered from depression. Numerous visits to psychologists and various medications failed to lift his mood.

Dalzell switched hobbies like socks, from choir to Rainbow Soccer to arts courses to drums. At 18, he lost his adoptive father and his faith. His dad, Michael, died in 1995 of pancreatic cancer, and Dalzell, who was active in The Church of the Holy Family in Chapel Hill, gave up on a God that he felt gave up on him. He dropped out of Northwood High School in Chatham County and later got his GED.

Dalzell had few social skills, few friends and didn't get along with his mom. He spent much of the following decade in his mother's house visiting chatrooms on the Internet, with brief interruptions by short-lived attempts at finding work. He lived on his own for only five months, in an apartment where his mother footed the bill.

His family acknowledges that Dalzell has "flopped around" much of his life. But for them, it's a pretty big leap to think that their son went from misfit to murderer.

"A person who can't keep a room any cleaner than he does can't hide a body, I don't care what anybody tells you," said George Mullen, Dalzell's stepfather of two years.

Tricked into confessing
According to police, Dalzell confessed to killing Key after investigators used a fake murder warrant and a death-penalty warning on district attorney stationery to dupe him into thinking he was being arrested in her death. Key's body has not been found.

Dalzell actually was being arrested for obtaining property by false pretense, financial identity fraud and possession of stolen property.

On Monday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Wade Barber could rule on public defender James Williams' motion to suppress Dalzell's statements. Williams argues that officers interrogated Dalzell before advising him of his rights and that the statements were obtained in violation of those rights. Dalzell declined to comment on his case at the advice of his attorney.

Juanita Mullen said officers had been out to get her son for years and forced him to make his confession.

"They told him if he can't produce a body, he was going to die," she said. "To Andrew, it was the equivalent of having a gun to his head."

Carrboro Police Chief Carolyn Hutchison said the police didn't have a vendetta against Dalzell. She said the procedures and techniques used to get his confession were proper and lawful.

An innocent person would not have confessed in a similar situation, she said. "I do not believe that the confession was coerced. I believe he was properly [read his rights] and chose to confess the crime," she said.

The real victim

Susan Key Gagnon, Deborah Key's sister, said her family thinks that police have accused the right man in her sister's death. She said she is concerned that the controversy surrounding the confession has turned Dalzell into a sympathetic character.

Gagnon said even if Dalzell was deceived, it does not mean he did not commit murder.

"He has been portrayed as 'Oh, poor Andrew, he has been misled,' " she said. "The victim here is my sister. I am hopeful that a confessed murderer will not be given the opportunity to murder again. What will we say to the next victim's family? 'Oops, we messed up?' "

Friends and family of both Key and Dalzell have been trying to make sense of what happened in the early morning hours of Dec. 1, 1997, when they allegedly met outside of a Carrboro bar. According to police, Dalzell was the last person to be seen with Key. Police have said Dalzell confessed to killing Key and dumping her body in Wilmington.

Joy Preslar, a friend of Key's who knew of Dalzell, said it has taken a lot of "psychic and emotional energy" for her to understand why her friend was killed.

"It puts me in a difficult place because I want to be angry with him. But I feel sad for him. He is not a nameless, faceless fiend. He was a troubled child," she said. "Part of me wants to just throttle him. But part of me wants to understand. I have to understand why he did this."

Juanita Mullen wants to understand, too. She said she wants to understand how people could think her son is a murderer. When Dalzell came home in a panic saying that the police suspected him of murder, Mullen said she asked her son whether he killed Key. He said he didn't. That was all the explanation she needed.

If she had an indication that Dalzell killed Key, Mullen said, she would demand that he tell the truth and pay the price.

Mullen said Dalzell's most recent ordeal has tested her love for her son like never before. She said she still considers her son an answer to her prayers, though it is a blessing "I don't understand everything about."

Some family friends have stood by them throughout the case. Others questioned whether she did all she could to help her son.

"I could have thrown him out. The assumption is that he was going to straighten up and fly right. But he had no skills. What was I going to do," she said. "Go let him live out on Franklin Street?"

Mullen has not given up hope that her son will find his way. She said landing in prison was a wake-up call for him. She said he now realizes she is not going to "be there to hold his hand" for the rest of his life and is making contingency plans in case he is released.

Dalzell applied for a job, she said, that might be waiting for him if he gets out. He has again taken up the Episcopal faith and has hopes of moving away from Carrboro to make a fresh start.

But for now, Dalzell and his mother sit and wait, wondering whether his epiphany came too late.

Staff writer Kayce T. Ataiyero can be reached at 932-2004 or