SANTA ANA (CNS) - A 53-year-old man pleaded guilty today and was sentenced to 11 years in prison, or time already served in jail awaiting trial, for killing a young woman in her bedroom in Buena Park 34 years ago.
Daniel Edward McDermott, who has been in custody since Dec. 12, 2012, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
As part of the plea deal, a charge of special circumstances murder while committing rape was dismissed. Because McDermott has credit for 5,164 days in custody he will be released from custody.
It was an unexpected plea as McDermott's trial was underway and jurors had heard weeks of testimony. If he had been convicted he would have faced life in prison without the possibility of parole.
McDermott's attorney, Chuck Hasse of the Orange County Public Defender's Office, told City News Service that Mary Hong, a forensic scientist for the Orange County Crime Lab, was showing reluctance to testify in the trial, which spurred plea deal negotiations.
Hasse accused Hong of doctoring DNA evidence in the case that could have exonerated his client.
``She altered the numbers to link McDermott to the DNA and she was dishonest about it,'' Hasse said. ``What the district attorney was really hanging his hat on was there was touch DNA on the victim's wrist to connect my client'' to the crime, Hasse said.
Hasse said he intended to argue that Hong had concluded there was more than one person's DNA on the wrist, but that after McDermott was arrested and authorities had his DNA she altered her analysis and pointed to just the defendant's genetic material on the wrist.
``When the district attorney contacted (Hong) to schedule her as a witness she started hedging and indicated she could no longer connect McDermott to the wrist,'' Hasse said.
Hasse said the resolution of the case was ``bittersweet'' because he and his client were ``ready to take it to the mat,'' but that given a choice between gambling on life in prison without parole and getting free they had to take the deal.
``He gets his freedom for admitting he's her killer -- what a tough choice,'' Hasse said. ``We really struggled on the defense side to accept that offer.''
A prior trial ended with a mistrial in July 2016 of when jurors failed to reach a verdict, voting 11-1 for guilt.
McDermott killed 18-year-old Gehmine ``Janean'' Chandler on Jan. 11, 1988. On the night of the killing, she went house hunting with her father, Thomas Edward Patraw Sr., who she was living with at the time in his home at 8750 Vestavia Ave.
Patraw was selling the home and Chandler was packing up her things to move back to Texas.
The two had dinner at a Sizzler, returned home and spent time in a Jacuzzi before she took a shower and prepared for bed. She then got a call from a friend in Texas, who was planning to fly to Orange County so he could help her drive back to Texas.
At about 1 a.m., Patraw ``heard a scream and thought it was a cat and went back to sleep,'' Senior Deputy District Attorney Seton Hunt said in his opening statement. Two neighbors also heard the scream, Hunt said.
Patraw woke again at about 5 a.m. and saw a stereo speaker was missing, so he went to check on his daughter, didn't see her right away under covers and looked for her elsewhere in the house, Hunt said.
When he returned to her room he saw her ``lifeless body'' and her arm dangling over the bed, Hunt added.
There were no signs of forced entry, and a side door she often used was unlocked, Hunt said. Police questioned her boyfriend and ex-boyfriends but the case went cold, Hunt said.
Law enforcement reopened its investigation in 2009.
``There's a lot of DNA on the bed spread'' on the victim's bed, Hunt said. ``It's messy, folks,'' he told jurors.
An ex-boyfriend's DNA was found on the sheets, but his DNA was not found on the victim's body, Hunt said. A small speck from Thomas Edward Patraw Jr. -- her half-brother -- was on her nightgown, Hunt said.
But for years as investigators kept ruling out suspects, the one whose DNA was not examined was McDermott's, Hunt said. When authorities asked for a genetic sample from him it matched DNA found in the victim and on her right wrist, which had a scratch on it, Hunt said.
McDermott told investigators in the days following the killing that he was acquainted with Chandler through his friend Sean Falk, who dated her, Hunt said. McDermott told police that she asked him to steal a car stereo for her, but he refused, Hunt said.
The day before the killing, McDermott said he ran into her in the neighborhood and they had some small talk.
When police questioned him again in 2010 in New Mexico where he had relocated, the defendant denied ever dating the victim. When detectives flew out to question him again in October 2012, he again denied ever sleeping with the victim, and investigators retrieved the DNA swab from him, Hunt said.
McDermott's attorney, Chuck Hasse, told jurors that the victim's father was not involved in his daughter's upbringing and was only recently acquainted with her before her death.
The victim was conceived when Patraw had an affair with his boss' wife, Hasse said. Chandler was ultimately adopted by Dr. Raymond Chandler when her mother married him after moving back to Texas from California, Hasse said.
Chandler did not learn until years later that she was adopted. When she was having issues with her mother when she was 17 she asked her biological father if she could live with him and he agreed, Hasse said.
Patraw was experiencing ``a lot of stressers'' in his life when his daughter moved in, Hasse said. He was ``underwater'' on his mortgage and was being sued to pay child support for his son, Hasse said.
Also, Chandler and her father did not get along.
``She's burning up the phone bills... she's messy and he's neat... and she was not going to school,'' Hasse said.
She was also borrowing his car without permission and breaking into his room, so ``the father-daughter experiment ends after three months.''
Chandler went to live with another family friend from November to June 1987 and inherited about $13,000 from her adoptive father when he died, Hasse said.
When the victim again asked to move in with her father he agreed and opened a joint bank account for her inheritance, and then a week later took out $1,000 for himself, which became a thorn of contention between the two, Hasse said.
Chandler spent the inheritance quickly, buying a car that she later totaled in a crash, Hasse said.
When she got evicted from an apartment she lived in with a boyfriend she ended up ``couch surfing'' with another friend until she asked again to return to living with her father, Hasse said.
The two made a deal that it would be a short-term living arrangement with her agreeing to move back to Texas as he sold his house, and he promised to pay her back the $1,000, the attorney said.
``But those last 11 days the drama didn't stop,'' Hasse said.
Chandler hid his credit card bills so he wouldn't see money she owed on a rental car she got after her car was totaled in the crash, Hasse said.
A couple of days before she was killed, she saw McDermott in the neighborhood and asked him to come by to say goodbye before she left town, Hasse said. That night she went out with a boyfriend, who still was unaware she was leaving town, Hasse said.
A day before the killing, McDermott and Chandler had sex, Hasse said.
On the night of her death, after they got home from the restaurant, she said she got a call from a friend and was going to meet him, but the friend later told investigators he never called her, so it's a mystery where she went, Hasse said.