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Woman's death ruled an overdose

An autopsy has determined the 23-year-old daughter of a North Carolina police chief died from a lethal mix of heroin and cocaine -- as the Niagara Falls native charged in her death claimed months ago.

Michael Neal Harvey, a convicted sex offender described by police as a heavy heroin user, had told his mother during a spare moment in a court hearing in September that Valerie Hamilton died of a drug overdose.

"It was an accident, mom. She OD'd," Harvey said during the hearing in Niagara County Court that set the stage for his return to North Carolina to face charges in Hamilton's death.

His mother, Rose Harvey, and three other family members hurried from the courtroom after the proceeding without talking to reporters.

North Carolina authorities searched for Hamilton for several days after she disappeared from a Charlotte tavern in September. They found her body in a nearby storage unit. She was the daughter of Merl Hamilton, police chief of the Charlotte-area city of Concord.

Harvey, 35, was with Hamilton the night she was last seen, and police charged him with murder. Police say that witnesses told Harvey he should seek medical attention for Hamilton but that he did not.

The Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner's Office announced Friday that pathologists determined the amount of cocaine and heroin found in Hamilton's body was lethal and noted a needle mark on her right arm.

The day before the autopsy results were announced, Harvey appeared in a Mecklenburg County, N.C., courtroom to face charges unrelated to Hamilton's death, including being a habitual felon and possessing a gun and drug paraphernalia.

During the hearing, his attorney said they were interested in a plea deal, but prosecutors said no offer has been made.

e-mail: citydesk@buffnews.com