Sept. 22, 2010 -- Friends of Valerie Hamilton are furious today that her suspected killer claims she died of a drug overdose, arguing that the police chief's daughter did not use drugs and must have been tricked or coerced into taking the lethal dose.
"I think he drugged her," Robin Varner, one of Valerie Hamilton's closest friends, told ABCNews.com. "I'm not sure how, but I know he was buying her drinks at the bar and I feel like he deceived her and drugged her. When he realized it wasn't going the way he wanted it to, he panicked and dumped her."
"I don't want everyone's last memory of Valerie to be what this loser is saying about her," said Varner.
Varner is referring to comments made by suspected killer Michael Neal Harvey, who told reporters outside a New York courtroom Tuesday that the daughter of Concord Police Chief Merl Hamilton died as a result of her own drug use.
"This is not murder. There is no murder at all," Harvey, clad in an orange jumpsuit and his hands cuffed, yelled at the press. "She OD'd in her sleep. She overdosed in her sleep."
Hamilton's body was found Sept. 19 stuffed in a locker. Harvey was the last person seen with 23-year-old Hamilton before she disappeared two weeks ago.
Harvey, 34, was arrested Monday in a Niagara Falls, N.Y., house that was littered with needles and evidence of heroin, and police said Harvey was high at the time of his arrest.
Hamilton's friends are defending her against Harvey's claim that she died of a drug overdose. A preliminary autopsy released Tuesday showed no evidence of physical trauma to Hamilton's body, and police said there was evidence of drug use.
"Even though the [autopsy] says all that, I still think Harvey forced it on her," said Varner. "He did this. For her to have never used drugs and then boom, they say she overdosed? That just isn't who Valerie was."
"For him to say, 'Oh yeah, she overdosed,' it makes me angry, I can't believe he'd be saying that," Varner said. "He has no reason to be talking, he has a huge criminal record. What right does he have to be trashing my friend who led this amazing life?"
Harvey is a convicted sex offender and has a history of drug-related arrests.
Friends of Valerie Hamilton Say The Swim Teacher Did Not Do Drugs
The Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department said Tuesday that Hamilton left a bar willingly with Harvey the night she died, but at witnesses told investigators that at some point in the night Hamilton "appeared to need immediate medical attention" and urged Harvey to call a doctor.
"The suspect did not seek professional medical attention for Ms. Hamilton after being prompted by several independent witnesses to do so," the police statement said.
"The preliminary results do not indicate any sign of traditional physical trauma to Ms. Hamilton's body, i.e., gunshot wounds, stab wounds, strangulation, bludgeoning," the statement said. Results from Hamilton's toxicology report and sexual examination kit are still pending.
The Charlotte Observer reported that Hamilton called a friend, Ashley Barton, at 3 a.m. that night asking if she wanted to come over to Harvey's apartment complex to swim in a hot tub with her and a friend. Barton now assumes the other friend was Harvey.
Repeated messages left for Barton by ABCNews.com were not immediately returned, but Varner said that Barton was not in her group of close friends. Hamilton had met Barton just a month prior to her death, according to Varner.
Asked why Hamilton would call Barton so late at night Varner said she was not sure.
Harvey Could Still Be Held Responsible for Valerie Hamilton's Death
Hamilton's father Merl Hamilton told the Charlotte Observer that he hopes people won't judge his daughter.
"What really happened has to unfold," he said. "Maybe it will someday or maybe it won't. Even though the indications are that drugs are involved, there are all kinds of possibilities."
Hamilton's other friend, Kathryn Foster, whose birthday was being celebrated at the bar the night Hamilton died, said that she too is shocked about allegations that her friend used drugs.
"[Heroin] was by no means a part of our lives," said Foster. "I never saw Valerie doing anything along those lines."'
"I can't say that the police are wrong about what happened because I don't know where they are getting their information," she said. "But I know it was not Valerie's decision to do drugs, if she did them."
Foster had been training alongside Hamilton for an upcoming triathlon. Hamilton had given Foster running gear for her birthday last week and the two had made a habit of running and biking to work at the swim school during the summer.
"If she had been using, she wouldn't have been yelling at me to run faster," said Foster.
Legal analysts said Harvey could still be held responsible for her death.
"This is similar to the Michael Jackson situation. If someone provides a lethal dosage to another person, if that person administers that lethal dose to themselves and dies, that can constitute manslaughter," said Richard Meehan, a criminal defense attorney.
A Charlotte church was overflowing with friends and family for the funeral of the aspiring special education teacher Tuesday.
Christine Postilli read a moving letter to her slain friend, saying, "I will no longer just admire the way you were with children...I will become a better mother...teacher...person... because of what you taught me."