SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - After hearing a trial that lasted less than four days, jurors in Sarasota County found Luke Fleming guilty of first-degree murder and sexual battery in the 1999 cold case murder of Deborah Dalzell.
For years, Deborah Dalzell’s murder was a mystery. No one knew who or why she was raped and murdered in her Sarasota County home. Then in 2018, Luke Fleming was arrested after his DNA was linked to the case.
It only took jurors a few hours to find Fleming guilty.
Over the course of the trial, jurors listened to a first of its kind case involving DNA in the more than two-decade old cold case. Detectives said new advancements in technology were able to produce trait predictions based off of unidentified DNA samples.
Law enforcement officials used the semen left behind in the 1999 scene to help build a trait prediction profile on the case a few years ago. Detectives then obtained a voluntary DNA swab of Fleming’s child and that profile determined the DNA belonged to Fleming.
“For the DNA profile from the right thigh of Deborah Dalzell. It’s greater than 700 billion times more likely to occur than if that DNA profile originated from Mr. Fleming than if it originated from an unrelated individual,” said FDLE senior crime analyst, Mary Pacheco.
Fleming’s defense attorney had questions for Pacheco in regards to the decades old semen evidence.
“You said that there were two tubes in the package. Which you received... Correct? Correct. And there was no liquid in the tubes? That’s correct,” said criminal attorney Anne Borghetti.
Another analyst later testified that they dry out some liquid evidence to better preserve evidence that’s kept for a long time. That same analyst from a private lab tested the shirt that was found wrapped around Dalzell’s neck.
“Luke Fleming cannot be excluded as a contributor to this major Y DNA profile nor can any of his paternal relatives because again we’re dealing with male DNA which is passed down from a father to a son,” said DNA Labs International DNA analyst, Alicia Cadenas.
Fleming took the stand in his own defense, telling jurors that he met Dalzell at a bar in Sarasota.
“We were flirting and then we began kissing and holding hands. At some point, I led her over to my car and we got into the back seat. We did have consensual sex. Nothing unusual. I would describe it as normal. Afterwards, we got out and she smoked a cigarette and I believe I continued drinking. I don’t know if I got her phone number or not, but we both left the bar in our own cars. I have never seen her again after that night," Fleming said.
He told jurors he did not rape or kill Dalzell.
During opening statements prosecutors talked about the condition she was found in.
“And he’s also going to tell you that he sees the white T-shirt wrapped around Deborah’s neck and he’s also going to tell you that there’s a sock stuffed down the back of Deborah throat,” said Sarasota County Assistant States Attorney Art Jackman. “Her face was brutally battered.”
Dalzell didn’t show up for work that morning so her former worker drove to her home to check on her. When he got there he saw her car still in the garage, a ripped-up window screen, and things out of place in her room.
The defense differed their opening statements, but seven witnesses took the stand Tuesday.
“I called her boss and said, ‘Mike there’s something terribly wrong here you need to get out here.’ Hung up and called 911," said a former coworker of the victim, Joel Seimer.
When detectives and crime scene technicians showed up to the crime scene they found the bathtub overflowing and Dalzell murdered.
In the end, jurors weighed the DNA evidence against Fleming’s tale and found him guilty. The judge sentenced him to two life sentences.
Fleming will now spend the rest of his life behind bars for Dalzell’s murder.