Local News

Murder suspect pleads guilty to online sex charge

Posted May 7, 2009 11:46 a.m. EDT

— A man suspected in the 1997 disappearance of a Carrboro woman has pleaded guilty to trying to seduce underage girls in an online chat room.

Andrew Dalzell, 32, of Gastonia, pleaded guilty to using the Internet to knowingly persuade, induce, entice or coerce a person who is younger than 18 years of age to engage in illegal sexual activity. He will be sentenced later.

Dalzell was arrested in February in Buncombe County after trading messages in a chat room with an undercover officer posing as an 11-year-old. Authorities said the messages discussed performing sex acts.

Five years ago, Dalzell was charged with murdering Debbie Key, who disappeared from the parking lot of a Carrboro pub in December 1997. Her body has never been found.

The two were acquaintances, and Dalzell was reportedly the last person to see Key before her disappearance. Police said Dalzell confessed to the crime.

A judge threw out the confession in 2005, ruling that officers crossed the line by showing him bogus court documents to obtain it. Officers admitted they showed Dalzell a phony arrest warrant and a fake letter that purported to be from the district attorney and said he would seek the death penalty if Dalzell didn't confess to the crime.

Without the confession, prosecutors were forced to drop the murder charge a few months later.