Crime

Girlfriend strangled; mother choked, put on ice in a tub. Cary man’s murder trial begins.

In 2015, a man in Cary dialed 911 and calmly explained he had choked both his girlfriend and mother to death, crimes police confirmed when they discovered one woman dead on the floor of her apartment and a second on ice in a bathtub.

On Monday, Brandon James Lee goes on trial for first-degree murder, charged with strangling both Christa Lassiter Lee, 58, and Krystal Juell Hylton, 28. Jury selection started in the morning.

Lee, 34 at the time of his arrest, lived with his mother on Havers Drive. When he called 911 in December 2015, he told dispatchers she had attacked him with a knife, trying to kill them both.

“My mother wanted to kill herself,” according to the 911 call. “I couldn’t let her kill herself because that is an unforgivable sin, and she was trying to kill me at the same time.”

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Brandon James Lee, 34, makes his first appearance before a judge in a Wake County courtroom Monday. He called police Sunday afternoon to tell them he had killed his mother and girlfriend and has been charged with murder in the deaths of the two women. He was denied bail. Chris Seward cseward@newsobserver.com

Police broke in the bathroom door of the apartment they shared and found her body in the tub, where it had lain fully clothed and partially covered in ice for roughly a week, a search warrant said at the time.

Officers later arrested Lee at Hylton’s apartment, where he had called 911. They found the girlfriend’s body on the floor there and Lee’s mother’s Volkswagen parked outside.

The 911 caller, identified as Lee, told dispatchers Hylton had been “seeing someone else and lying to me, and I ended up choking her, too.”

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said lawyers could begin presenting evidence as early as Tuesday.

As the case opened Monday, Lee’s attorney Jonathan Broun said he plans to argue that Lee killed both women but that the case does not amount to first-degree murder. He said he will make the case for his client’s diminished capacity, or mental state that made him incapable of acting intentionally.

Superior Court Judge Graham Shirley asked Lee if he understood this and gave his consent.

“Yes, your honor,” Lee said.

Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.
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