The New Orleans Times-Picayune
ZACHARY, La. (AP) -- Since accused serial killer Derrick Todd Lee
was arrested in May, victims' families have criticized the task
force investigating the murders for ignoring tips about Lee that
small-town detectives and state investigators had offered in 2002.
Investigators from the Zachary Police Department and the state
attorney general's office got the credit, and the task force, made
up of state, federal and Baton Rouge crime fighters, got the
New information, culled by The Times-Picayune of New Orleans
from 1998 correspondence regarding the Randi Mebruer murder in
Zachary and interviews with her survivors, shows that the Zachary
and attorney general's investigators made mistakes notably similar
to the ones for which the task force has been criticized.
In particular, despite strong suspicions that Lee had killed
Mebruer, they failed to swab him for a DNA sample and failed to
test evidence from the crime scene for DNA until recently.
Lee has since been linked to Mebruer's murder, along with the
murders of six other women, by police who say Lee's genetic
information matches the DNA evidence left behind on the victims.
If the DNA testing had been ordered sooner, it could have linked
Lee to what was in evidence all along: semen on a trash can liner
from Mebruer's house.
That evidence, revealed last month almost six years after
Mebruer's death, was good enough to charge Lee with Mebruer's
murder. And it likely would have been enough to get the attention
of the task force in 2002, because they were using DNA to connect
Unfortunately, said Sgt. Ray Day of the Zachary Police
Department, investigators weren't sure what they had back then and
didn't follow up on initial blood-typing and fingerprinting test
results, which recommended further DNA testing.
Meanwhile, Zachary detectives and the attorney general's
investigators who assisted them were busy chasing down the wrong
man: Mebruer's ex-husband, Michael Mebruer.
They asked Michael Mebruer, and not Lee, for a DNA sample,
according to notes his attorney, Tommy Damico, typed up in 1998.
In the years that followed, according to interviews with family
members, Dannie Mixon, an attorney general's investigator credited
with cracking the case, was so convinced that Michael Mebruer had
killed his ex-wife that Randi Mebruer's mother Nancy Powers doesn't
recall ever hearing Lee's name after 1999.
Mixon "told me repeatedly, 'He killed your daughter. He killed
your daughter. He was the one who murdered your daughter,"' Powers
Mixon, who finally swabbed Lee for DNA in May, declined to
comment, but Zachary investigators last week defended their
handling of the Mebruer murder, the earliest of the seven murders
to which Lee has been linked. Mebruer's body has never been found.
Lt. David McDavid, Zachary's lead detective on the case, said
it's easy in hindsight to second-guess decisions made at a time
when "different opinions" from different agencies were pulling
the investigation in different directions.
Lee had a criminal history in the area where Randi Mebruer
lived, with arrests there for burglary and for peeking into women's
McDavid said Lee, who is scheduled for trial May 10 in Baton
Rouge, was always his prime suspect and that he doesn't remember
asking Michael Mebruer for a DNA sample.
DNA wasn't a tool that they used back then, said former Chief
John Wales. "People didn't think about DNA then," Wales said.
"I'd never heard of DNA."
Zachary Police Chief Joey Watson, who took office last year,
said he doesn't question the department's decision not to swab Lee
for a DNA sample before last spring.
"It's possible that another investigator, or group of
investigators, early on would have said, 'I think we've got enough
to convince a judge to get a swab.' But we didn't want to scare the
guy off," Watson said. "Here, you're accusing a guy of multiple
murders. It's not like you're accusing somebody for shoplifting. So
you want to be sure."
Mebruer's loved ones now wonder if all six women murdered after
Mebruer would be alive today if investigators had done things
"This is a huge cover-up. They messed up horribly on this case
several, several times," Michael Mebruer said last week from his
home in Syracuse, Kan. "A big cover-up, man. That's what it is.
They were talking DNA just a couple months after all this happened,
asking for my DNA. They're trying to cover their footsteps. They
dropped the ball."