Special Photo. Dominique "Nique" Leili is seen here with her husband Matt, who authorities said is now a suspect. Matt reported her missing July 11, telling police she'd vanished two days prior.
LAWRENCEVILLE — Lawrenceville resident Matt Leili, the only suspect police have singled out in his wife’s homicide, broke his silence Wednesday by issuing a press release through his attorney proclaiming his innocence and downplaying media reports that he hasn’t cooperated with investigators.
Gwinnett police said Leili retained an attorney and ceased cooperation with detectives on Friday, the day before volunteer searchers found his wife’s decomposed body beneath leaves and sticks in their Lawrenceville neighborhood, less than a mile from their Sidneys Cove home.
Matt and Nique Leili, 44, had been married 13 years and have two daughters, ages 9 and 12. Nique Leili’s father has filed a petition for custody of those children.
No charges have been filed, though police called Matt Leili a suspect Monday. Authorities have not said how his wife died.
“At this time, Mr. Leili’s number one priority is the safety and welfare of his two young children who have just lost their mother,” said Lawrenceville attorney Lyle Porter in the release.
“Contrary to the allegations as reported, Mr. Leili cooperated with the police and provided every known fact and circumstance regarding his wife’s disappearance,” Porter continued. “(He) has done nothing wrong, and as such, is refusing to respond to allegations as reported in the media.”
The release concludes with Matt Leili asking, via his attorney, for “your continued prayers and support as the authorities continue their investigation, which he trusts will result in the ultimate arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible,” Porter wrote
Matt Leili’s assertion of innocence brought another twist in an ordeal that’s wreaked havoc on Nique Leili’s family and friends since her husband first said she disappeared July 9, the morning after the two had argued at home. Matt Leili, 43, filed for divorce July 13, claiming his wife had abandoned him and their two minor daughters. In court documents he demanded sole custody and child support.
The divorce complaint was dismissed Tuesday.
Porter said neither he nor his client will comment further in the ongoing investigation.
“I join my client’s request that you please respect the family’s privacy during this difficult period in their lives,” the release states.
Nique Leili’s sister, Amy Elk, 34, said her brother-in-law is downplaying facts of the case and is keeping her family in the dark regarding funeral plans.
“He didn’t report her missing. He filed for divorce. He resisted spreading the word about her disappearance. He removed flyers,” Elk told the Daily Post on Wednesday. “All of these are facts, and they are not in dispute.”
The Gwinnett County Medical Examiner’s Office released the body to a Lawrenceville funeral home Wednesday at her husband’s request. Citing the ongoing investigation, Ted Bailey, Chief Forensic Investigator, would not say if a cause of death was determined or if further studies, such as toxicology tests, are pending.
Toxicology results typically aren’t returned for about three months, he said.
“If there’s a reason for us to hold a body, we would,” Bailey said. “State law does indicate the spouse is the legal next-of-kin and can make the funeral arrangements, unless they have been charged with murder or voluntary manslaughter.”
The CEO of Tom Wages Funeral Home, where Nique Leili’s remains were sent, declined comment. Elk said Matt Leili has not informed the family of funeral plans, and has disallowed contact with the two young girls.
Nique Leili’s father, Douglas Chatham, is challenging the custody arrangement.
Chatham filed a petition in Gwinnett Superior Court this week seeking custody of the girls, claiming “the children’s welfare and safety is not known at this time and may be compromised.” The family’s attorney, Noel Benedict, did not return a call for comment, but a representative at his office said a custody hearing is pending.
The discovery of Nique Leili’s body, confirmed by dental records Monday, marked the end of a relationship her friends and family described as rocky of late. Ten days before her disappearance, she called 911 to report her husband was barring her from leaving the home. Responding officers spoke to both sides individually, found no evidence of abuse and advised them of family violence laws. Neither wanted to leave, police said.
Police this week said Matt Leili’s movements weren’t being tracked and that he wasn’t being restrained in any way.
Nique Leili’s eldest daughter from a previous marriage, Alex, 19, has cooperated with police and had orchestrated the volunteer search — via Facebook and Twitter — that led to her mother’s body
Elk said her sister, raised in Fairburn, supported the family by handling finances for an Alpharetta computer group.