Photo by John Schreiber.
Orange County Courthouse, Orange County Justice Center in Santa Ana. Photo by John Schreiber.

A 47-year-old accused killer strangled and raped an 18-year-old acquaintance in her Buena Park bedroom 28 years ago, a prosecutor told jurors Thursday, but the defendant’s attorney denied everything, insisting the police got the wrong guy.

The defendant’s attorney admitted his client had a secret sexual relationship with the victim, but told the court the murdered teen’s father had recently taken out a life insurance policy on her and the father and daughter had a “horrible relationship” while living together.

Daniel Edward McDermott is charged with murder with a special circumstance allegation of murder during a rape. He is facing life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.

McDermott is charged with the Jan. 11, 1988 killing of Gehmine Chandler. The victim was staying with her father, Thomas Edward Patraw, at the time before she planned to move back with her mother in Texas, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Steve McGreevy.

The victim spent the afternoon with a boyfriend and then she and her father went house hunting in Brea, McGreevy said. Father and daughter had dinner, spent some time in the backyard spa, and then she took a shower while her dad went to bed, McGreevy said.

Chandler, who was “a bit of a night owl,” stayed up to watch TV and took a call from her boyfriend about 11:30 p.m., McGreevy said in the Santa Ana courtroom.

Investigators suspect Chandler was attacked sometime between midnight and 5 a.m. on Jan. 11, McGreevy said. The father and a neighbor heard screams, but Patraw thought it sounded like a cat and didn’t get out of bed, McGreevy said.

Later, when Patraw got up to get ready for work he found his daughter’s body and tried to revive her with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation before paramedics arrived and pronounced her dead at the scene.

McDermott was among those who knew Chandler that were questioned at the time, but the case went cold.

The defendant told police in 1988 that he did not know the victim well, but was acquainted with her through his close friend, Sean Falk, who was dating her, McGreevy said.

Later, when the case was reopened in 2009, advancements in forensics technology allowed investigators to collect key DNA evidence, but there were no immediate matches, McGreevy said.

Police interviewed McDermott again over the phone at his residence in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2010, and the defendant again reiterated that he only knew the victim through Falk, McGreevy said.

McDermott, in a face-to-face interview with detectives in October 2012, denied ever having sex with the victim, McGreevy said.

“They were not just denials, they were adamant denials,” McGreevy said.

Investigators got genetic material from McDermott and were able to make a DNA match with the victim’s body, McGreevy said. McDermott was arrested Oct. 28, 2012.

The autopsy of the victim showed the cause of death was strangulation, McGreevy said.

The defendant’s attorney, Darren Thompson, said his client had an ongoing consensual sexual relationship with Chandler behind his longtime friend’s back and was too embarrassed to cop to it when questioned.

“They had consensual sex on several occasions before that night,” Thompson said. “But Mr. McDermott did not kill Gehmine. He had no reason whatsoever to kill Gehmine.”

The defendant lied about his relationship with the victim because “he was embarrassed, he was ashamed,” and because, “even though he had nothing to do with her death he knew they had consensual sex that night and he was scared. He was afraid because he didn’t want to be accused of something he had absolutely nothing to do with.”

The defense attorney said Chandler’s father took out a life insurance policy on his daughter a few weeks before her death. The two “had a horrible relationship” while living together, Thompson said.

Patraw did not tell anyone about the insurance policy until the insurers demanded that he provide proof that he could be ruled out as a suspect before paying on the claim, Thompson said.

Patraw could not be excluded as a suspect for some time and never was able to collect on the policy, which ranged from $10,000 to $100,000, Thompson said.

Patraw was asked if he had insurance on his daughter to pay for the funeral and he said he did not, Thompson said.

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