Judge declares woman dead
By BETH VELLIQUETTE : The Herald-Sun
Feb 23, 2005 : 7:17 pm ET
DURHAM — A Durham County judge says Deborah Leigh Key is dead.
In an order issued this week, Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson found there was enough evidence to support the conclusion that Key — who has not been seen in more than seven years — was no longer alive, without having to go through other legal proceedings, said Woody Vann, the attorney who is representing Key’s family. The family had requested an official ruling that Key, who disappeared from downtown Carrboro on Dec. 1, 1997, was legally dead.
Andrew Douglas Dalzell, 28, is charged with her murder, but the case against him might not go forward. An Orange County judge ruled in January that Dalzell’s confession was illegally obtained by the Carrboro Police Department after they arrested him for stealing some items from a hobby store.
Superior Court Judge Wade Barber ruled the confession was inadmissible in a murder trial, leaving the district attorney’s office with little evidence implicating Dalzell.
Hudson’s order reflected the opinion of Carrboro’s police chief, Carolyn Hutchison, and Orange County’s district attorney, Carl Fox, that Key was the victim of a homicide and that Dalzell had confessed to killing her, Vann said. Hutchison and Fox both wrote letters to Vann about their beliefs to present in the request for the declaration of death.
The family requested that Key be declared dead as a form of closure, Vann said.
“There’s very little business to take care of,” he said. “This was more personal than business.”
If the murder case against Dalzell does go forward, Hudson’s order could be used in the criminal proceedings against him to show that Key is dead, although that’s not the reason the family requested the order, Vann said.
“Theoretically the district attorney could bring it in,” he said. “There are a number of cases that go forward without a body. If it got to the point where the appellate court overturns the trial court and they decide to try him, that’s one less thing a jury has to worry about.”
Fox filed a notice of appeal after Barber made his ruling to throw out Dalzell’s confession, but Fox had no comment Wednesday when asked if the actual appeal had been or would be submitted to the N.C. Court of Appeals.