Photo via Pixabay
Photo via Pixabay

An Orange County jury has narrowly failed to reach a consensus on charges against a man charged with raping and strangling an 18-year-old acquaintance in her Buena Park bedroom 28 years ago, forcing a mistrial.

Jurors, who began deliberating Wednesday afternoon, deadlocked Monday 11-1 for guilt in the trial of Daniel Edward McDermott, who is charged with murder with a special circumstance allegation of murder during a rape.

Earlier votes of the panel were 7-5 for guilt, then 8-4 for guilt, then 10-2 for guilt.

The 47-year-old defendant would face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of the Jan. 11, 1988, killing of Gehmine Chandler.

The victim had been staying with her father, Thomas Edward Patraw, but was planning to move back in with her mother in Texas, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Steve McGreevy.

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

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

Later, when Patraw got up to get ready for work, he found his daughter’s body and tried to revive her with CPR 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 by phone in 2010 — he was living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the time — 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, resulting in the defendant’s arrest on Oct. 28, 2012, the prosecutor said.

An autopsy on 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,” Thompson said. “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, and the two “had a horrible relationship” while living together.

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

McGreevy countered that the victim’s father also took out policies on himself and other family members at the time, and said the payout would have been a modest $10,000.

–City News Service

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