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Michael Lee KING





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Kidnapping - Rape
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: January 17, 2008
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1971
Victim profile: Denise Amber Lee, 21
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: North Port, Sarasota County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on December 4, 2009

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Murder of Denise Amber Lee

Denise Amber Lee was murdered by Michael King in the U.S. state of Florida on January 17, 2008, after he had kidnapped and raped her earlier in the day.

Lee and several others had attempted to call for help through the 9-1-1 system but there was a lack of communication and the police and other emergency services arrived too late. Five 9-1-1 calls were made that day, including one by Lee herself from her abductor's phone and one from a witness, Jane Kowalski, who gave a detailed account of events as they unfolded before her. Failures were later found in the way the 9-1-1 operators handled Kowalski's call and further failures were later identified nationwide in the 9-1-1 system.

The Denise Amber Lee Act was passed unanimously by the Florida Legislature on April 24, 2008. This act provides for voluntary training for 9-1-1 operatives. Lee's family continue to lobby for a new law, called simply Denise's Law, to be passed; this would recommend mandatory training and certification for all 9-1-1 dispatchers. The Denise Amber Lee Foundation was established in June 2008 to promote such training as well as to raise public awareness of the issues involved.

Michael King was sentenced to the death penalty.

Denise Amber Lee

Denise Amber Lee (née Goff) (August 6, 1986 – January 17, 2008) was born in Englewood, Florida. Lee was the daughter of Sgt. Rick Goff, of the sheriff's office in Charlotte County, Florida and Sue Goff. Not long after their first date, Lee's future husband, Nathan, bought her a $40 heart-shaped ring which she never removed. The ring would later become key evidence connecting perpetrator and victim.

Michael King

Michael King (born 1971) trained as a plumber but had been unemployed for several months prior to the crime and was facing foreclosure on his home in North Port. He is divorced. He has a low IQ and family members described to the court how King had had an accident while sledding as a child; an expert witness described the subsequent injury as a "divot" in his brain.


On January 17, 2008, Michael King abducted Denise Amber Lee from her home. He drove her around, tied up in his vehicle, for quite some time; several people witnessed the journey. Later, King raped and murdered Lee and buried her in a shallow grave. Her body was found on January 19, 2008. King was later found guilty of kidnapping, sexual battery and first degree murder; he was sentenced to the death penalty and is presently detained awaiting execution.

Nathan Lee was at work that Thursday (January 17, 2008); his wife, Denise Lee, was at home with their young children. She called him at 11:21 a.m., the last time the two would speak. Among the topics discussed was the nice weather: the couple decided that the windows should be opened at their home. She said she had already opened them. Nathan Lee arrived home around 3:30 p.m. to find the windows closed, his wife missing and the children home alone in the same crib. This prompted him to make his 9-1-1 call, the first of the day related to this crime.

A neighbor saw a car arrive at Lee’s home around 2 p.m. The car was later identified as Michael King's dark green 1994 Chevy Camaro.

Lee was bound and taken to King's home in North Port, Florida, where he set up what the prosecution in the trial referred to as a "rape room". Duct tape and other evidence was found in this room.

She was then taken to King's cousin Harold Muxlow's home, where King then borrowed a shovel, a gas can, and a flashlight. Lee was able to take King's cell phone while he was out of the vehicle and dial 9-1-1. Her desperate 9-1-1 call was released during the trial, which caused a lot of reaction by the public. The operator obtained information from Lee which later helped convict King. The call is several minutes long with Lee begging for her life saying “please” 17 times. She answered the call taker's questions while pretending to talk to King. Judge Deno Economou, the presiding judge over the murder trial, noted how unusual and rare it was to hear a murder victim’s last words. Prosecutors said later that Lee had given them their best evidence that she was taken against her will, she did not know her abductor and her subsequent murder was premeditated. Lee was unable to give her exact location. Police were unable to trace the location of the caller (Denise Amber Lee) because it was made on a prepaid wireless phone.

Around 6:30 p.m., a witness, Jane Kowalski, heard screaming from a car next to hers at a stoplight. Kowalski called 9-1-1 to report what she believed to be a child abduction. The call was allegedly mishandled however, and no police were dispatched to the area by Charlotte County Dispatch.

Several BOLOs (Be On Look Out reports) were issued by the Florida Highway Patrol and the North Port Police Department to 6 surrounding counties starting at 4:59 p.m. However, Charlotte County Sheriff's Office deputies were unaware of the BOLOs. Police were never dispatched into the area where Kowalski had reported the sighting of King. According to the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office Internal Affairs Report #08-01-003 the Charlotte County Dispatch Center was understaffed. Deputies in the field testified they were not made aware of a green Camaro until 6:45 p.m. and only after Sgt Goff had listened to his daughter's call.

At some unknown time later, King shot Denise Lee in the head and buried her naked body in a 4 ft.deep hole. King then proceeded to bury other evidence in areas close by.

At 9:15 p.m., roughly six hours after Lee was first reported missing, Florida Highway Patrol Officer Eddie Pope pulled King's Camaro over as King tried to enter I-75 from Toledo Blade and only a short distance from where he buried her.

Lee was found on January 19, 2008 off Toledo Blade, North Port, less than five miles from where Kowalski last saw her.


The trial of the State of Florida vs. Michael L. King officially began on August 24, 2009. Lead prosecuting attorney was State Assistant Lon Arend, lead defense attorney was Public Defender Carolyn Schlemmer. Presiding judge is Hon. Deno Economou, and the trial took place in Sarasota County, Florida.

The prosecution presented DNA and other forensic evidence, including hair and personal articles of Lee's found around and within the Camaro, King's home, and the grave site. Other evidence included King's change of clothing, duct tape, a shell casing, the shovel, and King's cell phone. The prosecution also called eye witnesses, including Jane Kowalski and King's cousin. The defense attempted to provide reasonable doubt by bringing to the jury's attention of evidence tampering and contamination, and by suggesting that one of King's friends had committed the crime. The judge did not approve of the latter defense. The defense rested without calling any witnesses.

On August 28, 2009 after deliberating for only two hours and five minutes, the jury found King guilty of kidnapping with intent to commit a felony, sexual battery, and first degree murder. On September 4, 2009, at 2:45 pm, the jury handed down the recommended sentence of death, in a unanimous 12–0 vote.

The 9-1-1 calls

In total, five 9-1-1 calls related to Lee's disappearance were placed by five different people between 3:29 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on January 17, 2008. Four were routed to operatives in Sarasota County, Florida; the other— placed by Jane Kowalski and the fourth in the sequence— was routed to operatives in neighboring Charlotte County, Florida. The one routed to Charlotte County was allegedly mishandled.

Nathan Lee placed the first call at 3:29 p.m. after he became concerned that his wife was missing from their family home, leaving their children home alone. Nathan Lee said, "My kids were in the house and I don't know where she is". This call, along with her father Sgt. Rick Goff's intervention, resulted in a countywide search for Lee. The search was eventually widened to include neighboring counties.

The second call was placed by Lee at 6:14 p.m. from her abductor's cellphone. This call was presented by the state prosecutors as part of the key evidence at King's trial. Lee had left the line open as she spoke with King. She had attempted to cause King to implicate himself and had surreptitiously dropped clues into the conversation for the listening operatives as she spoke.

At 6:23 p.m., Sabrina Muxlow— daughter of King's cousin, Harold Muxlow— placed the third 9-1-1 call. She was concerned that King appeared to have a girl tied up in the back of his vehicle. She said, "He came over to my dad's house" and "borrowed a shovel, a gas tank, and something else". Sabrina Muxlow explained further that when Lee had tried to escape "my dad's cousin went and put her back in the car".

Jane Kowalski's call was placed by cellphone at 6:30 p.m. while she was driving on U.S. Route 41. "I was at a stoplight and a man pulled up next to me and there was a child screaming in the car", she said. She explained further that she heard "terrifying screaming" and that she had "never heard anything like that". Kowalski believed that she was witnessing a child abduction. She also identified the car as a Camaro but stated the color as blue (rather than green). She stated that she had made eye contact with the driver after which "a hand came up and started banging on the passenger window". Since she had crossed the county line into Charlotte, the call was routed to that latter state's 9-1-1 call center. It was only after she saw the news the following day that she realized she had witnessed the abduction of Lee rather than that of a child. When she called the North Port Police Department to explain who she was and that she had made a 9-1-1 call, it became apparent that the call had not been forwarded to the correct authorities. It is this call that is alleged to have been mishandled due to the fact that the operatives neglected to file it correctly. This call was also presented by the state prosecutors as part of the key evidence at King's trial. Although Kowalski’s call lasted 9 minutes and included cross streets, Charlotte County Dispatch failed to dispatch a car. Furthermore, the dispatcher did not enter Kowalski’s information into the CAD until 6:42 p.m., twelve minutes after Kowalski's call had begun.

The final call was placed by Harold Muxlow at 6:50 p.m. He was vague in his account and attempted to hide his identity, but later investigations revealed that he was indeed the caller. He said "[I am] not sure exactly what the emergency is" but explained that he felt that some one had been taken: "It didn't look like she wanted to be there". He confirmed that his cousin had borrowed a gas can, a shovel, and a flashlight; he was told, he stated, that these were to be used to fix a broken lawnmower stuck in a ditch. During the call, Muxlow said he had seen a woman in the car struggling with King; the woman had got out of the car at one point and shouted "Call the cops" to which King replied "Don't worry about it" as he pushed her back into the vehicle and drove off. Muxlow testified during the murder trial and gave crucial evidence identifying the voice talking to Denise during her 9-1-1 call as Michael King.

Denise Amber Lee Foundation

Due to Jane Kowalski's mishandled 9-1-1 call, more research revealed several issues countrywide in the 9-1-1 system, so a non-profit organization with the mission to "To promote and support public safety through uniform training, standardized protocols, defined measurable outcomes, and technological advances in the 9-1-1 system." was established in June 2008 in Lee's name. Her husband, father and father-in-law continue to manage the Foundation, along with many other notable community leaders from the region.

Subsequent Florida State Law

On April 24, 2008, the Senate Bill, CS/SB 1694, concerning the Denise Amber Lee Act, which provides for voluntary training for 9-1-1 operatives, was passed unanimously by the Florida Legislature. The Act's passage into state law continues.

House Bill CS/HB 355 and Senate Bill CS/SB 742 are being considered at present in Tallahassee to address the fact that 9-1-1 operatives in the state are not required to undertake mandatory training. Lee's husband Nathan Lee and her father Rick Goff continue to lobby in Tallahassee to get Denise's Law passed, which would recommend mandatory training and certification for all 9-1-1 dispatchers.

A separate bill, sponsored by Representative Robert C. Schenck, that would place significant limitations on 9-1-1 calls when played in public, is being considered by the Florida Legislature. The Lee family has spoken against this bill. The Governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, has said that he is "not favorably inclined toward the bill". The bill was later dropped.


Florida's top court upholds King murder conviction

By Todd Ruger -

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Florida Supreme Court upheld the murder conviction and death sentence of Michael King on Thursday, calling his 2008 abduction and killing of North Port mother Denise Lee "unquestionably cold and cruel."

The ruling comes as part of a mandatory appeal, where King's attorneys argued the former plumber did not get a fair trial and the brain injuries he suffered as a child meant he should not get the death penalty.

The story of Lee's Jan. 17, 2008 abduction and murder captivated the Florida Supreme Court just as it did the Sarasota community and the nation, from the frantic search for her that night to the missed chances to save her, including a mishandled 911 call.

"As noted in the sentencing order, rarely is a court able to experience first-hand what a deceased victim encountered," the Florida Supreme Court wrote in the opinion released Thursday.

"In this case, anyone who listens to the 911 call placed by Denise Lee will hear the abject terror she was experiencing plus her panicked, frantic pleas to the 911 dispatcher (for help) and King (to be returned home)."

The Florida Supreme Court also cited the horrific details of the crime and wrote that the court is "in complete agreement" that the death penalty was appropriate in King's case.

Lee, 21, was cutting her son's hair on the lanai of her home when King abducted her. Her two children were left alone at the home. King, by all accounts a stranger to Lee, bound her with duct tape and repeatedly raped her at his home. He eventually fatally shot Lee at point-blank range and buried her in a shallow grave in an undeveloped section of North Port.

While pleading for her life, Lee never said a four-letter word and never expressed anger. She said "please" 17 times.

In December 2009, the same jury that convicted King of abducting, raping and killing Lee also recommended 12-0 that King, 40, die for the crimes.

The appeal process is mandatory because King was sentenced to death, and this was the first of several chances King has to challenge his conviction.



Michael King gets death penalty

By Todd Ruger -

Friday, December 4, 2009

SARASOTA - Circuit Judge Deno Economou this afternoon sentenced Michael King to die for the killing of Denise Amber Lee after a horrifying abduction and rape.

The judge sat behind the bench and read his written ruling, about 45 pages that detailed how he weighed all the aggravating and mitigating factors that went into his decision.

In the end, Economou declared that the aggravating factors that support a death sentence outweighed the mitigating factors that could have led to a sentence of life in prison. The judge considered King’s low IQ, a past brain injury while sledding as a child, and the fact he was depressed due to a relationship break-up and a foreclosure on his home.

But the judge ultimately placed more weight on the heinous, premeditated nature of the crime, that Lee was kidnapped, and that she was murdered during the course of other felonies including rape.

In the courtroom were Lee’s family, the law enforcement officers that helped catch King and half of the jurors who convicted King of first-degree murder in August.

Economou delivered his sentence at 2:45 p.m.

He paid special attention to Denise Lee’s screams for help and pleadings for her life on a 911 recording during the abduction: “I just want to see my family. I just want to see my family again, please,” she said in a taped 911 call during her abduction.

The story of Lee’s abduction captured attention of the community, from the frantic search for her that night to the missed chances to save her, including a mishandled 911 call.

The daughter of a Charlotte County sheriff’s deputy, Lee was on the back lanai in January 2008, cutting her son’s hair, when King abducted her in his green Camaro. Her two children were left home alone.

King, a stranger to Lee, bound her with duct tape and repeatedly raped her at his home. He eventually shot Lee dead at point-blank range and buried her in a shallow grave in undeveloped section of North Port.



Jury recommends death sentence

By Todd Ruger -

Saturday, September 5, 2009

SARASOTA COUNTY - After two weeks of testimony, press conferences, tears and prayers, Denise Lee's relatives finally got what they wanted Friday: the death sentence for Michael King.

For the jurors, the decision was not close. They took less than three hours to unanimously recommend that King be put to death.

King borrowed several items to help bury Lee after kidnapping and raping her, a move that convinced jurors he deserved to die for killing her later that day in January 2008.

"I think he gave her a death sentence when he got the shovel, and the flashlight, and the gas can," juror Pat O'Quinn said.

Lee's relatives and friends appeared to hold their breath as the clerk read the verdict, and then gasped in relief when they heard the jury would recommend death.

Lee's husband, Nate Lee, flanked by his parents, put his face in his hands after the verdict was read. Lee's parents, Rick and Sue Goff, hugged tightly and took a minute to let go.

"Michael King is going to burn in hell," said Lee's grandmother, Nancy Bates. "Forever and ever and ever."

King, 38, had no visible reaction to the verdict, mirroring his emotionless behavior during the trial. He was handcuffed and returned to jail, where he will stay until the final sentencing hearing.

Afterward, the Lee family expressed gratitude to the detectives, prosecutors and other lawmen who helped secure the death penalty recommendation.

"I can't say enough," Rick Goff said. "This is how the criminal justice system is supposed to work."

One juror said it was Denise Lee's actions during the kidnapping -- swiping King's phone and calling 911, leaving behind her ring -- that gave jurors overwhelming evidence King was guilty.

"I don't know a normal person would be able to do that," Marcia Burns said. "The family needs to be extremely proud."

Jury consultant Art Patterson said the unanimous verdict was not surprising, given the recording of Lee's 911 call.

"You have a smoking gun. The emotion of hearing a woman plead for her life," Patterson said. "They get comfort in knowing this guy was so horrible and they know for sure what he was doing to her."

The verdict is a climax for a case that brought wide criticism of the 911 system after information from a witness who saw Lee banging on the window of King's car was not given to authorities looking for her.

Burns wondered what the disconnect was with police not responding in time to stop King from shooting Lee in a wooded area a few miles up the road.

But the juror also said the trial will change her life and how she will respond if she ever hears something unusual or someone in trouble.

"I can tell you now I'd be on the phone, I'd be on 911," Burns said.

After the verdict, North Port's police chief, Terry Lewis, shared a handshake and a private conversation with Rick Goff.

"The family is finally going to get closure," Lewis said.

Judge Deno Economou will make the final decision as to whether King goes to death row or receives life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But Economou must give the jury's recommendation "great weight," and a 12-0 vote makes it that much harder for him to go against it.

Prosecutors used closing arguments to call the murder especially heinous; they said King did it to conceal his crime and was cold and calculated.

Lee, 21, was taken from her North Port home in front of her two boys, and the two-day search for her buried body brought out legions of law enforcement professionals and volunteers.

King's attorneys pointed to a childhood sledding injury that they said set up a lifetime of diminished mental capacity.

King was described as a good father of a 13-year-old son, a good boyfriend and a good plumber, who led a life as a good citizen until one terrible decision.

Juror Jean Burgess said the decision to convict was quick and overwhelming; the decision to send King to his death was equally decisive -- but more difficult to make.

Experts say that capital cases often leave a lasting impact on the jurors who must decide whether a person lives or dies.

"You almost feel like you're God," Burgess said. "I'm still shaken."

For jurors and the family, a death penalty trial can bring about the same changes as a near-death experience.

"It makes people much more aware of their own mortality and the sanctity of life," Patterson said, "because they've now been involved in a horrible death."

Staff writer Anthony Cormier contributed to this story.



A life in the balance, and two families hurt

By Zac Anderson -

Monday, August 31, 2009 at 1:00 a.m.

The evidence was overwhelming, the verdict swift.

Now Michael King's life is in the balance as jurors consider this week if he should die for kidnapping, raping and murdering North Port mother Denise Lee.

The defense will try to portray King as a hardworking single father without a history of crime or violence, a man who snapped under mounting personal and financial troubles.

King's brothers will invoke his 12-year-old son, Matthew, as they implore jurors to spare his life.

"What Mike did was unimaginable, and if it wasn't for Matty I would say death is a fair punishment," said Dawn Irving, King's ex-sister-in-law and Matthew's aunt. "But Mike was a good dad, and I don't want Matty to know his dad was executed."

The family of Denise Lee is pushing for a death sentence.

"We're a third of the way there," Lee's father, Rick Goff, said Friday after King was found guilty.

Goff said the family is still waiting on the jury's vote on the death penalty and King's death by lethal injection.

"We're going to go up there and watch him get a needle in his arm to send him where he belongs," Goff said.

Prosecutors will argue that the horrific nature of Lee's kidnapping, rape and execution-style killing warrants death. Lee's family will talk about her kind nature and promising future, how she adopted animals, excelled in school and left behind two young boys.

Those details help prosecutors show the crime was particularly heinous and cruel, and details of the crime will show how King planned it.

King's background likely will figure prominently in the death penalty arguments as defense attorneys try to show factors that might let jurors show mercy.

Defense attorneys have said they could present experts to talk about a brain injury King suffered, and his diminished mental capacity.

During jury selection, they asked potential jurors if that might affect their decisions on a sentence and if they might be able to show "mercy."

King still hears ringing in his ears from a sledding accident, family members say, and defense attorneys may ask for leniency due to mental impairment.

Diminished mental capacity, prior criminal record and family background can all play into a jury's decision in a death penalty case, said Sarasota attorney Adam Tebrugge, who made closing arguments in about a dozen death penalty cases during 23 years as an assistant public defender in the 12th Circuit.

In half of those cases, Tebrugge said his clients received life sentences.

"What I find is that jurors want as much information as possible about the defendant before they make a life-or-death decision," he said.

But defense attorneys walk a fine line, Tebrugge said.

"I think it's very important you not be seen as offering any excuses for the defendant when you go into the penalty phase," he said.

Family members say little from King's past could have foreshadowed what happened.

Growing up near Pontiac, Mich., as the third of four boys, King led a normal middle-class life as the son of an auto worker. He married, had a son and worked overtime at his plumbing job to make sure his wife did not have to work.

He did not drink much or use drugs and had no history of domestic violence, which is what makes his crime so puzzling to April King, the ex-wife of King's brother, Gary.

"I couldn't believe it when I heard what he did because his whole nature isn't anything remotely close to somebody who would do something like that," April King said. "He was a real quiet, laid-back guy. He would baby-sit my kids!"

Yet King also was plagued by insecurity. He was shy and somewhat dim-witted but wanted people to think he was important, Irving said.

"He exaggerated a lot; you couldn't believe him," she said.

Irving believes King's crime stemmed from his relationship with his ex-wife, Danielle, Irving's sister.

Her sister ridiculed King, bossed him around, used him financially and left him twice, leaving King to care for their son alone, Irving said.

Irving watched King's trial on television last week and noted a striking resemblance between Denise Lee and King's ex-wife when she was younger.

She was prepared to testify that King was a good father, but the defense called her last week to say she was not needed. Irving said two of King's brothers, Jim and Gary King, are planning to testify.

Gary King declined to comment and Jim King did not return a message left at his home. Jim King and his wife, Carrie, of Marlette, Mich., are caring for Michael King's son.

King's father is sick and his parents will not travel from Michigan to Sarasota for the sentencing phase, said Janet Muxlow, King's aunt.

"I don't think they can handle it," Muxlow said. "This has been devastating for them."

Muxlow said the family believes King should be in a mental institution.

"We all think something must have popped in his brain," she said. "He was just a normal guy. Something must have happened. But what?"



Michael King guilty of raping, killing Denise Amber Lee

By Robert Eckhart - Sarasota Herald-Tribune

August 28, 2009

He did it.

Michael King is guilty of kidnapping, raping and murdering Denise Amber Lee, a jury said this afternoon after deliberating for two and a half hours.

King stared straight ahead as the verdict was read by the court clerk.

Several of Lee's family members, including her widower, Nate Lee, and mother, Sue Goff, quietly wept.

The same jury that convicted King, 38, will now help determine whether he should get the death penalty.

Nate Lee had a rare smile on his face as he left the Sarasota County Courthouse. He told reporters his wife played a major role in the verdicts.

"I'm so proud of Denise for what she was able to do to get this guy caught and convicted. The boys are gonna see how amazing she was," he said, flanked by Denise's father and mother.

Her father, Sgt. Rick Goff of the Charlotte County Sheriff's office says the case is only one-third finished. They will be in the courtroom next week for sentencing.

"Next step, were gonna go up there and watch him get the needle put in his arm and send him to the place where he belongs," said Sgt. Goff. "And totally opposite of where Denise is at and that's where we want him."

The verdict was hardly a surprise after a trial in which prosecutors presented a massive amount of incriminating evidence against King.

Blood, semen, hair, and duct tape were collected from King's green Camaro and his home; a shell casing found in the woods that experts linked to King's gun; all of those details worked together to paint a picture of a quick kidnapping, a brutal rape and a merciless killing.

Lee, a North Port mother of two small boys, was kidnapped from her home on the afternoon of Jan. 17, 2008. Hundreds of police and volunteers scoured the woods near her and King's homes in the hope that Lee was still alive. But her body was found two days later in a shallow grave close to where King was arrested in North Port.

No evidence in the weeklong trial was more powerful than the testimony of three witnesses who saw or heard Lee struggling to escape from King's car a short time before she was shot in the head.

As they deliberated, jurors listened to recordings of two 911 calls. One of them, made by Denise Lee from the back of King's car after she swiped his cell phone, has snippets of talk from a man who appears to be King and references her escape attempt at his cousin's house.

And later in the call, the man apparently makes a threatening reference to what prosecutors called "the rape room" at King's home.

"Now I wanna bring you in there again," the voice says. "I didn't wanna do that."

Those words will also be in the mind of jurors next week as they decide whether King deserves life in prison or the death penalty.

During that penalty phase, jurors will hear from King and Lee's families.Two of King's brothers will ask that he be spared the death penalty because he has no history of violence and he is the father of a 12-year-old boy.

Lee's family, including her widower Nate Lee and her father Rick Goff, will ask that King be put to death. The men will talk about how Lee doted over her two sons, Adam, 2, and Noah, 3 1/2.

The jury will recommend a sentence, and the final decision rests with Judge Deno Economou, who will give a great deal of weight to the jury's recommendation.

Reporter Peter Bernard contributed to this report.



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