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Man living in Manatee County arrested for 1999 cold case murder in Sarasota

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SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - After nearly 20 years, the sheriff's office has made an arrest in a cold case murder in Sarasota.

According to Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, Luke Fleming, 39, is the man detectives believe is responsible for the murder of Deborah Dalzell on March 29, 1999.

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Deborah Dalzell, courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff's Office

Detectives arrested Fleming on Sunday night in Ellenton. Fleming is charged with murder and sexual battery with great bodily harm. His bond is set at $1.2 million. 

On March 29, 1999, detectives were called to Dalzell's Sarasota home on Colony Meadows Lane when she failed to show up for work and her co-workers became concerned. Inside, detectives discovered her body. She had been brutally beaten, sexually assaulted and then strangled.

Peggy Thistle, Dalzell's sister, spoke at Wednesday's press conference, saying, "We miss Deborah every day. We never gave up hope. We're still processing this development. We say, for 20 years, he has been able to see the sun, breath the air, smell flowers. May today be the last day."

Watch the full video below:

The sheriff's office says a man jumped over a six-foot wall, cut a hole through the screened in patio and entered the home through French doors that were open. Semen was gathered but a suspect eluded detectives for years.

According to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, in 2015, detectives sent the DNA evidence from the crime scene to a company in Virginia that specializes in DNA phenotyping, which is the process of predicting physical appearance and ancestry from unidentified DNA evidence. The company produced a snapshot of what the suspect might have looked like at 25-years-old.


Detectives say they used this information to identify Luke Fleming, who used to live on Magnolia Pond Drive, walking distance of Deborah's home. Detectives obtained a DNA sample from Fleming that revealed that the suspect's profile belonged to Fleming.


"This is a very significant day for Deborah’s family, for our community and our detectives," said Sheriff Tom Knight. "I can’t imagine what it feels like to spend nearly 20 years with unanswered questions related to such a heinous crime. My thoughts are with Deborah’s family as I hope this resolution will eventually bring them the closure they need and deserve."

Fleming moved to Sarasota from Brooklyn, NY in 1991 and attended local public schools until graduating from Riverview High School in 1997. Dalzell was killed two years later.

Fleming moved to St. Petersburg in 2017, but was arrested on Sunday in Ellenton.

His family denied any comment on his arrest, but friends said Fleming was an average man and seemed like a good father. He was someone who never gave the impression that he was capable of such a heinous crime, one added.

"He has an unremarkable criminal history, which includes a domestic battery arrest in 2002 by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office," said Sarasota Sheriff's Captain John Walsh.

It's a stretch to call his other run ins with the law notable. Before being charged in this murder, his only prior charges were for speeding, illegally tinted windows and other driving infractions.

Watch the full press conference below:

Detectives say though they have a suspect in custody, they are still looking to speak to anyone who may know anything about the crime or the suspect. If you do, contact the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.

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