Suppressed confession enhances Dalzell’s sentence

… and that’s the end of that sad chapter. I have blog pretty extensively about Andrew Dalzell, and where our lives intersect. I’m not going to tell the whole disturbing story again. You can read it here.

I DO like that when you Google his name, this blog is the first thing that gets tossed up. Otherwise he and his transgressions would die in obscurity. Thanks to Beth Velliquette of the Herald-Sun for keeping this story alive.

CARRBORO – A murder confession made by a Carrboro murder suspect came back to bite him during a sentencing hearing for a completely different case in federal court.

The man who made the confession, which was later suppressed in state court, was Andrew Douglas Dalzell, who grew up in and around the Carrboro area. He is serving about 26 years in a federal prison in South Carolina for attempting to lure an 11-year-old girl into a sexual relationship in Asheville.

But Dalzell was once in the news in Orange County when he was arrested in the killing of Deborah Leigh Key in Carrboro.

Key, 35, disappeared after leaving a Main Street bar in 1997, and witnesses told police they saw Dalzell talking with Key at the bar that night. One witness told police that when he left the bar after it closed, he saw Key and Dalzell in the nearby Bank of America parking lot.

Key was never seen again, and her remains have never been discovered. For seven years, police suspected Dalzell killed her, but investigators couldn’t get enough evidence to charge him.

Then in 2004, using a series of tricks, that included showing Dalzell a warrant and a letter indicating he was being charged with first-degree murder and could be sentenced to death, when in fact he was being arrested for stealing some figurines from a store where he previously worked, Dalzell confessed to Carrboro officers that he had killed Key and driven her body to Wilmington, where he dumped her body in a large trash receptacle.

According to documents filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Dalzell told Carrboro police that he and Key were talking in the parking lot. When he tried to hug her, she spun around and slapped him. Dalzell said he grabbed her neck and couldn’t let go. She collapsed and he scooped her into the back seat of the car and drove east to Wilmington where he put her body in a Dumpster behind a strip mall.

When the case came to court, Dalzell’s attorneys argued his confession should be thrown out because the officers did not read him his Miranda rights before questioning him. Superior Court Judge Wade Barber agreed and wrote a long order, citing multiple violations of standard police procedures and law that Carrboro officers violated, and he suppressed the confession. Without the confession, police didn’t have enough evidence to hold Dalzell on the murder charge and he was released

Seven years later, that murder confession was used against Dalzell in federal court after Dalzell pleaded guilty to the federal charge of coercion and enticement for attempting to entice an 11-year-old girl to pose for child pornography.

According to law enforcement officials, Dalzell began communicating over the Internet with someone who he believed to be an 11-year-old girl named Megan. He initiated sexually explicit chats and solicited Megan to meet him for the purpose of taking sexually explicit photographs of her performing oral sex on a man.

Dalzell also sent “Megan” a modeling contract that would make her the property of the agency. If she stayed with him as his “pretty little slavegirl model,” he would pay her $300. He sent her a pornographic photo of a girl performing oral sex so she would get the idea of what kind of photographs he wanted to take, according to the federal documents.

“Megan,” however, was actually a detective with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office in Asheville posing as an 11-year-old girl, and when Dalzell showed up in the mobile home park where she supposedly lived, he was arrested.

That led him to federal court in the Western District last year where he pleaded guilty to the charge, which carried a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison.

Based on his criminal history, Dalzell was categorized as a Level II offender, and federal sentencing guidelines called for him to be sentenced to 253 to 293 months or about 21 years to 24½ years in prison.

However, during the sentencing hearing, federal prosecutors asked that he be sentenced at a higher level because of his “extreme conduct,” in which he stated during his Internet chats with “Megan” that he wished to turn her into his slave.

During the chats, he spoke of his willingness to torture and bind his slaves and described in graphic sexual detail the way he would murder a slave who was noncompliant, according to the prosecutor’s response to Dalzell’s appeal.

The judge denied that request.

Prosecutors also wanted the murder confession, which had been thrown out in state court, to be considered as part of his criminal history in federal court. They argued that Dalzell made the statement voluntarily and that the police tactics were not enough to overcome his will.

The court ruled that despite Judge Barber’s order suppressing his confession, it was still admissible for purposes of sentencing, and he granted the addition of three points to his criminal history, moving him from a Level II offender to a Level III offender, which calls for a longer prison sentence.

In the end, the judge sentenced Dalzell to about 26 1/2 years in prison.

Although when he pleaded guilty to the charge, Dalzell assured the judge that he knew he could not appeal his sentence, he appealed anyway.

He appealed the ruling that the murder confession could be used to increase the number of points in his criminal history.

The Court of Appeals considered first whether Dalzell had the right to appeal and found that his right to appeal was foreclosed by his appeal waiver that he made when he pleaded guilty to the charge in federal court.

It also ruled that there was no evidence that his defense counsel was ineffective and it declined to address the merits of that claim.

His attorney gave notice that the decision might be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

One thought on “Suppressed confession enhances Dalzell’s sentence”

  1. Thank you John!
    I missed this news article, I don’t know how, but I’m glad you caught it.
    This is more info than I had before, and I thought I was on top of it.
    I too would like to thank Beth Velliquette. She has done a good job covering Debbie’s story since she went missing, and I have had the pleasure of being interviewed by her myself, as well as several of my friends.
    I put this on my Facebook wall, and already got one comment.

    I know, I said this before, but humor me, okay?
    John, I know your involvment in this case was entirely involuntary (at first) but I appreciate very much how you have responded to it. I don’t feel like I can say that enough.

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