DNA leads to arrest in Sarasota woman's 1999 murder

Image 1 of 7

For 19 long years, Deborah Dalzell's family lived through the pain of not knowing who took her life.  Her sister, Peggy Thistle kept her memory alive over the years. 

"We miss Deborah every day, we never gave up hope," Peggy said.  "She was an incredible role model to her nieces and nephews who their lives she moved and touched so much.” 

On March 29, 1999, Deborah's body was found inside her home off Colony Meadows Lane in Sarasota. Her co-workers were concerned when she did not show up for work. When deputies arrived, they found her brutally beaten, sexually battered, and strangled. 

Who did it remained a mystery for nearly two decades. The main piece of evidence left behind was DNA from the suspect. 

"This evil person turned her paradise into a nightmare," said Thistle. 

The mystery man was finally unmasked this week.  Deputies announced the arrest of 39-year old Luke Fleming.  

At the time of the murder, he lived less than a mile away from Dalzell. 

"Thanks to DNA evidence coupled with ancestry and genealogy, we've finally connected the dots," said Sheriff Tom Knight. 

Two years ago, a composite sketch of a suspected was developed by 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. 

More recently, an analysis of the sample unveiled a genealogical report that identified relatives of the killer, which led deputies to Fleming. 

"In this analysis, the suspected DNA was compared to a database of DNA profiles from volunteer participants in an effort to identify relatives of the suspect DNA and how closely they were related," said Captain John Walsh. 

After nearly 20 years of living free, Fleming is locked up in the Sarasota County Jail. While Deborah's family finally has some of the answers to questions that have haunted them every single day, since March 29, 1999. 

"I asked my mother if there was anything she'd like to say and she said ‘Yes, we say for 20 years he has been able to see the sun, breathe the air, smell flowers. May today be the last day,’" added Thistle. 

Fleming was charged with murder and sexual battery with great bodily harm. He remains in the Sarasota County Jail on a $1.2-million bond.