DNA testing and phenotyping helps Sarasota County Sheriffs Office detectives solve 19-year-old homicide investigation.
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, through investigation and DNA testing, identified and arrested 39-year-old Luke Fleming for the 1999 murder of Deborah Dalzell.
On March 29, 1999, deputies were dispatched to 5356 Colony Meadows Lane in Sarasota after co-workers became concerned when Deborah did not show up for work. When they arrived, deputies found Deborah dead inside her home. Investigation revealed Deborah was brutally beaten, sexually battered and strangled. The Medical Examiner’s Office found semen evidence left by the suspect during the sexual battery and determined her death was the result of a homicide.
In 2015, after researching advances in DNA, the sheriff’s office sought the services of Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company in Virginia that specializes in DNA phenotyping: the process of predicting physical appearance and ancestry from unidentified DNA evidence. Using the semen sample collected at the crime scene, Snapshot produced trait predictions for the suspect. Individual predictions were made for the suspect’s ancestry, eye color, hair color, skin color, freckling, and face shape. By combining these attributes of appearance, a Snapshot composite was produced depicting what the suspect may have looked like at 25 years old.
Detectives used this information to identify people who may have information helpful to the investigation, ultimately identifying 20-year-old Luke Fleming, who at the time, lived at 5185 Magnolia Pond Drive, walking distance to Deborah’s home. Through investigative means, detectives obtained a DNA sample which was analyzed and compared against the suspect’s DNA profile. The comparison revealed the suspect’s profile belonged to Luke Fleming.
Late Sunday night, detectives took Fleming into custody in Ellenton. He is charged with Murder and Sexual Battery with Great Bodily Harm. Fleming was transported to the Sarasota County Jail Monday where he remains today on a $1.2 million bond.
“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 twenty 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.”
The sheriff’s office would like to thank Parabon NanoLabs, DNA Labs International, Genetic Genealogy Consultants, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office for their assistance in this investigation and subsequent arrest.