Are Botched 911 Calls to Blame for Denise Lee's Death?

Denise Lee's family says 911 dispatchers mishandled life-saving information.

ByABC News
July 22, 2008, 2:49 PM

July 23, 2008— -- Denise and Nathan Lee were only teenagers when they met four years ago. Denise, then 17, was still in high school, but was also taking college courses at the same community college that Nathan, then 19, was attending. When Nathan saw Denise, it was love at first sight.

"I know it sounds cliché, but I mean, we really knew right away. I mean, we were two peas in a pod. We were as happy as you could be," Nathan said.

But that happiness came to a tragic end in January, when Denise was kidnapped and murdered. Her death could have been avoided, Nathan believes, if police had not mishandled crucial 911 calls that they received.

The two got married and soon after had their first son, Noah, in 2006. In July of last year, they had their second son, Adam. Despite being so young, Denise and Nathan were making things work. Denise stayed at their home in North Port, Fla., with the kids while Nathan worked hard to support his family.

"We had two beautiful kids and were just, you know, just livin' the American Dream," Nathan said. Until suddenly, one day, the dream was destroyed.

Nathan remembered Jan. 17 to have been a regular day -- he went to work early in the morning before Denise was up with the two boys. The last time they spoke to each other was around 11 a.m. He tried calling her cell phone on his way home around 3 p.m., but couldn't get a hold of her, even though he tried several times.

At 2:30 p.m., just an hour before Nathan would get home, their neighbor, Jennifer Eckert recalled peeking out of her blinds and seeing "a green Camaro going up and down the road." She said she saw the car pull into the Lee's driveway and noticed a man sitting in the driver's seat.

When Nathan got home around 3:30 p.m., he said he found his two sons alone.

"It was within 10 minutes that I really knew that something's not right," Nathan said. He sensed his 21-year-old wife was possibly in serious trouble. As he searched the home and found her cell phone and purse, he questioned his 2-year-old son about where his mother was.

Nathan said he became very nervous and started to "lose it." He then made the first 911 call that he believes could have saved Denise's life. He was stunned, left to sit on the porch and wait, paralyzed as police searched their home for any clues to where Denise might have been.

Then, there was a break in the case: Denise, herself, called 911.

At 6:14 p.m. Denise, the daughter of a sheriff's deputy, somehow got hold of her alleged kidnapper's cell phone. According to a North Port police report, operators listened to her pleading helplessly with her alleged captor for about six and a half minutes.

Denise's father, Rick Goff, heard the recording, which has not been released to the public.

"The dispatch is asking questions and she's like making it sound like she's talking to him ... but she's really answering dispatch questions. 'Where do you live' and things like that," Goff said.

But before police could get a fix on the location, the call was lost. However, police said they were able to determine that the cell phone belonged to a North Port man named Michael King, a 36-year-old unemployed plumber.

Nathan characterized the call from his wife as "the first step to getting her back."