SARASOTA, Florida - There's no question about who abducted, raped, and murdered 21-year-old Denise Amber Lee in 2008. The North Port woman's killer, Michael King, has been sentenced to death. The question now is whether the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office could have prevented it.
Lee's family says yes and they have filed a wrongful death suit against the sheriff's office.
"She was the perfect wife," says 28-year-old widower Nathan Lee to a Charlotte County jury of five women and one man.
He says, "I found my soulmate. I always felt loved."
The jury learns about 21-year-old Denise Amber Lee as a mother to their two young sons. "She was amazing," says Nathan.
Their sons, Noah and Adam, are now growing up without their mother. "As they get older, big days -- birthdays, T-ball, Noah's first day of school -- should have been the happiest for me. She wasn't there," Nathan tells the jury as he holds back tears.
Michael King has been sentenced to death for Denise's abduction, rape, and murder, but her family says King is not the only one responsible.
Nathan tells the jury, "The sheriff's office could have prevented my wife's death."
Nathan speaks of a 911 call motorist Jane Kowalski made to emergency dispatchers. She saw what appeared to be a child screaming in the back seat of a Camaro.
"Hand coming up, banging on the window, screaming, screaming, screaming," says Kowalski. The screams and banging on the window were so loud Kowalski says her sister, who she was speaking on the phone with at the time, could hear it.
Kowalski followed the dark-colored Camaro as she gave the dispatcher a detailed location of where they were driving. Kowalski followed the Camaro. She last saw King as he turned onto Toledo Blade Boulevard.
It's a phone call Nathan's attorney says is mishandled at the 911 center and the result was fatal. Deputies found Lee's body two days later off Toledo Blade Boulevard. She had been shot in the head.
"No one is dispatched, no one is dispatched to chase the car," Lee's attorney, Patrick Boyle, tells the jury in his opening statements. "This case is about how incredible failure allowed this to happen, incredible failures."
Defense attorney Bruce Jolly says the sheriff's office is not responsible for King's actions. Jolly tells the jury, "I hope you are not operating under the assumption the sheriff has the power, that law enforcement has the power, to stop crime. Folks, that's not way it works."
Lee's family is seeking $750,000 in damages from the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office. The trial is expected to last two weeks.