Murder victim's house burns

VENICE -- Fire damaged the home of murder victim Denise Dean on Monday.

Dean, 37, was found strangled to death with a note on her back in her 1789 Elm St. home on Feb. 6.

"I, Kevin Kent, killed Denise Dean," the note read. Kent, 34, Dean's former boyfriend who lived at the same address, was charged two days later with second-degree murder.

Firefighters got the call about the fire at 8:15 a.m. Monday.

"It (the fire) was pretty well confined to a family room," said Sarasota County Battalion Chief Michael Suarez. "There was smoke and water damage to the rest of the house."

Suarez said the fire is under investigation.

"They (arson investigators) took samples to rule out any incendiary fire," he said.

The home was not occupied at the time. Police spokesman said the crime scene investigators were done with their work at the house, so no evidence was lost in the blaze.

Dean's body was found at her home two days after she had been killed. Police went there after Kent reportedly called Dean's ex-husband at a bar and told him, "I killed Denise."

Deputies later found Kent sitting in the back yard of a home he and Dean had lived in earlier.

Following his arrest, Kent told investigators that he strangled Dean at approximately 2:15 p.m. Feb. 4. He said they had been arguing, then Dean tried to escape through the front door. Kent pulled her back inside and slammed the door. At some point, she picked up a phone and dialed 9-1-1.

Ken said he knew if police came he would be arrested because he had previously been issued a "No-contact order" by the court when he was released from custody on a domestic battery complaint filed by Dean.

Ken told the investigators he then grabbed Dean around her neck with his left arm.

"I strangled her until she quit breathing and had no pulse," he stated to investigators.

A deputy came to the home and knocked on the door, but left when nobody answered.

Sarasota County Sheriff's Office spokesman Chuck Lesaltato said the medical examiner's preliminary report "was consistent with what our investigators determined, death by strangulation."

Kent was booked into the Sarasota County Jail without bond.

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Fire destroys murder victim's house
Investigators are awaiting lab results from the fire marshal to determine the cause of the blaze.


VENICE GARDENS -- A fire on Monday destroyed the house where a woman was murdered last week.

Investigators have not yet determined the cause and would not say whether the fire appeared to be arson or an accident.

The fire, which neighbors discovered about 8:20 a.m. Monday, gutted the inside of the one-story, cinder-block house at 1789 Elm Drive.

"It was scary," neighbor Mary Fleming said. "Flames were shooting out of the top of the roof and smoke billowing everywhere."

Four days earlier, Sarasota County sheriff's deputies found Denise Dean's body on the bathroom floor. Her live-in boyfriend, Kevin Kent, a 34-year-old construction worker, was charged with second-degree murder after confessing to killing Dean, 37. He has been in the Sarasota County jail without bail since Thursday.

Authorities from the state fire marshal's office and the Sarasota County Fire Department and Sheriff's Office sifted through the charred remains of Dean's house with shovels Monday, looking for evidence. The investigation could take up to a week to complete, said fire marshal official Michael White.

The fire appeared to have started in a family room at the back of the house, said Mike Suarez, a fire department spokesman. Investigators were awaiting lab results from the fire marshal to determine the cause.

The Sheriff's Office did not lose any evidence in its murder investigation; detectives had already completed their work in the house, spokesman Chuck Lesaltato said.

Dean and Kent moved into the house last month. Neighbors said they had met the couple briefly, but Fleming said Dean confided that the relationship was ending.

"She (Dean) called Kevin her husband," said Fleming, who let Dean use the phone because her service had not been connected. "But she said it won't be long because 'we're having domestic problems.'"

Kent was arrested for domestic violence against Dean three times last year.

He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic battery Nov. 22 and was sentenced to 12 months of probation and ordered to have no contact with Dean.

The state attorney's office declined to prosecute the other two cases because Dean refused to cooperate.

Despite the no-contact order, Dean and Kent moved into the modest Elm Drive home, which her parents, Tony and Sandie Piano of Bradenton, bought for her two weeks ago.

The house was to be Dean's first step toward putting her life back together, her family said. She had a substance abuse problem.

"This was going to be good for her, having her own house and making a new start," said her sister, Debbie Spahn of Indiana, who has custody of two of Dean's children. Dean's 8-year-old son lives in Venice with another ex-husband, Thomas Clark. "She was finally happy and life was taking a turn."

Dean recently had started bartending at Club 41 Lounge in South Venice and "was trying to make a home for herself and trying to work on getting her own kids back (from Indiana)," her mother said.

"Now, even the little bit we did have of her is gone."

Dean often had visible bruises from Kent's beatings, her mother said. Dean was taken to the hospital and treated for a dislocated shoulder after one particularly violent attack last year.

Several times during the couple's tempestuous 11/2-year relationship, family and friends begged her to break it off, her mother said.

"But he (Kent) was a real good talker," she said. "He even had us convinced that he was trying to make a good life for her.

"I think she really thought she could handle him."

staff Writer