EVERETT — After almost 1½ years in a state psychiatric hospital, murder charges were refiled this week against Alan Edward Dean, the suspect in the 1993 killing of Bothell teenager Melissa Lee.
In a case that had gone cold for nearly three decades, Dean, now 64, was arrested in connection with Lee’s death in July 2020 with the help of forensic genealogy research. A used cigarette butt linked Dean to the long unsolved killing of Lee, who was 15 when she died in April 1993. He was 35 at the time.
Last week, an assistant state attorney general wrote to deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson that Dean was going to be discharged from the state hospital. Matheson told The Daily Herald he wasn’t given a reason for the discharge. And the move came just a month into a six-month involuntary commitment, Dean’s public defender said in court Thursday.
On Tuesday, the defendant was booked into the Snohomish County Jail where he remained on $2 million bail.
But this doesn’t mean he’ll now be competent to stand trial, Matheson said in an email. Prosecutors will likely still need to show further competency restoration could work.
“And if we get past that point, then we will likely need to start the whole process of restoration over again,” Matheson wrote, “and see if the doctors and pharmacology can get him competent.”
Dean appeared in court Thursday via video conference, seated in a wheelchair. During the nearly 15-minute hearing, he appeared to pick at his thumbs and cross his arms. His defense attorney Jon Scott argued the case should be dismissed because there is no sign his client could have the capacity to stand trial.
“There needs to be a good-faith basis that he is either restored or restorable,” Scott said in court. “There is no information whatsoever to support such a good-faith basis.”
The issue of competency is set to be taken up in a court hearing later this month.
Lee went missing in April 1993.
Around 9:30 p.m. April 13, she had an uneventful call with her mother, according to the refiled charges in Snohomish County Superior Court. Everything seemed to be fine. But when the mother returned to their Bothell home on Filbert Road around 2 a.m. after a night out with her boyfriend, she found the place in disarray. The front door was open. Couch cushions in the living room were out of place. An ashtray, a glass of milk and a jar of peanuts were dumped on the floor. The room smelled like “ether,” the mother’s boyfriend told police.
The teenager had previously run away, so her mother didn’t call police at first, according to court papers. But as time went by, she got more worried. Around 1:45 p.m., about 12 hours after getting home, she reported her daughter missing.
That same afternoon, passersby found Lee’s body 50 feet below the Edgewater Creek bridge on Mukilteo Boulevard.
The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office determined she was strangled to death. Toxicology tests reportedly showed ethyl ether and heptane in her blood, according to the charges.
A search of the Bothell home reportedly turned up Marlboro cigarettes and a lighter not belonging to Lee, her mother or her mother’s boyfriend. Police also found a planner, according to court documents. In it, she had written about meeting with a man named “Michael” and listed a phone number for him. A detective called the number. Dean picked up.
Dean reportedly later told a detective he met Lee on an anonymous phone chat line the month before. He reported he used the name Michael on the chat line. He said he’d seen Lee twice in March. On one occasion, he picked up her and her sister at their Filbert Road home and drove them to Alderwood Mall and his apartment. Another time Dean and Lee went to a house of one of Lee’s friends.
In his reports to police, Dean said he’d never had sexual contact with Lee and didn’t know she had died. He didn’t remember where he was April 13 or 14, according to court papers.
That was the last time law enforcement had contacted him about this case. Until 2019.
A genetic genealogist built family trees until she was able to identify the source of DNA found at the 1993 crime scene. This same technique led to breakthroughs in the Golden State killer case and the 1987 slaying of a young Canadian couple in Snohomish County.
In January of that year, the sheriff’s office sent a sample of Lee’s stained underwear to Parabon NanoLabs. The next month, forensic genealogist CeCe Moore told detectives that Dean was a potential suspect, according to the refiled charges.
Investigators then needed to get a sample of Dean’s DNA to test it against the crime scene evidence. He smoked cigarettes outside his Bothell home, but almost always took the butts back inside with him.
On April 21, 2020, he broke his pattern. He snuffed out his cigarette and tossed the butt on the side of the road.
An undercover detective picked it up and sent it to a state crime lab for testing. There was an apparent DNA match for the stain on Lee’s clothing, according to court documents. The suspect was arrested.
In court appearances, Dean rambled incoherently. At his arraignment after being charged with first-degree murder in August 2020, Dean refused to identify himself. A judge ordered him to undergo a mental health evaluation when he failed to cooperate at another hearing.
Dean had a limited psychiatric history, a psychologist noted in a report last year. Between 2007 and 2009, however, he received services in King County in relation to a schizophrenia diagnosis.
The psychologist recommended a finding of incompetency in October 2020. Finding Dean didn’t have the capacity to understand the nature of the proceedings against him or to help in his defense, a judge ordered a 90-day competency restoration treatment at Western State Hospital.
At the hospital, Dean refused to take medication and was unwilling to participate in treatment, according to court records. But after a doctor argued the chance of his symptoms improving was “extremely poor” if he didn’t take his medication, another judge ordered it could be administered involuntarily.
A second 90-day restoration period was ordered in January of last year. In that time, Dean wrote a series of letters to Superior Court judges in which he claimed he wasn’t a U.S. citizen.
“i cannot make any LEGAL determinations on any of the claims or accusations you are making or on any of the questions you are asking,” the defendant wrote in January 2021. “i decline any and all offers to contract and i do not concede to any presumptions. i am not accountable For any errors or omissions made by the offeror or the offerors partners known or unknown. i am not in agreement with any proceedings that are adverse to my best interest. i do hereby invoke all the maxims of equity and appoint the court of equity as Trustee.”
In April 2021, Superior Court Judge Richard Okrent signed an order committing Dean indefinitely. Western State Hospital doctors wrote that Dean remained incompetent to stand trial and that it wasn’t likely further treatment would change that, according to court documents.
With that, the murder charge against Dean was dismissed.
Prosecutors could refile charges if a judge found him competent to stand trial in the future. There were no more filings in court on the high-profile case for almost 11 months, until Monday.