A man charged with murder in the death of his domestic partner on a Maine beach last year entered a plea Monday of not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.

Jeffrey Buchannan has been in jail for almost a year, since police found Rhonda Pattelena, 35, dead on Short Sands Beach in York late last March. An autopsy found that Pattelena had died from blunt force injury to the head.

Police had received several 911 calls about an assault on the beach. Witnesses reported a man beating and then dragging another person behind some rocks.

Police arrested Buchannan when they arrived at the beach, after a witness pointed him out, and he was charged with murder hours later. Police said in court records they had video footage from nearby businesses’ surveillance cameras of Buchannan striking Pattelena from behind.

Speaking to detectives after his arrest, Buchannan said he and Pattelena were on the beach together when he saw a man running toward him. He felt threatened, he said, and “blacked out.”

“When asked if he remembered anything, he advised that he first recalled breathing heavy and that Rhonda was laying on the ground,” the affidavit said. “He advised that he walked away at that point, leaving Rhonda behind.”


By entering his plea Monday, Buchannan does not contest killing Pattelena. Rather, he is contesting that he had the capacity at the time to know the wrongfulness of what he was doing.

Jeffrey Buchannan York County Sheriff’s Office

Buchannan was convicted of felony kidnapping years before Pattelena’s death,  and she was the victim in that case, according to records from the Massachusetts Department of Criminal Justice Information Services. Pattelena at the time told a Massachusetts State Police trooper that her boyfriend had assaulted her and prevented her and her children from leaving their house, before he made her take him to Logan Airport.

Buchannan served time for that conviction and was released from prison in September 2018. He also has prior convictions in Massachusetts for carrying a dangerous weapon, larceny and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

Pattelena and Buchannan, both of Bedford, Massachusetts, had one child together. She had three children – ages 17, 14 and 2 at the time of her death – and was a medical assistant, studying to become a licensed practical nurse.

Rhonda Pattelena Photo courtesy of Melissa Matranga

Friends, family and organizations specializing in domestic violence outreach gathered at Short Sands Beach for a candlelight vigil about a week after Pattelena’s death. A GoFundMe campaign organized at the time by a friend of Pattelena’s has raised more than $53,000 for her family.

“I think in some ways this case stood out because of the extent of the tragedy of it,” said Emily Gormley, director of development and community engagement for Caring Unlimited, a York County domestic violence resource center, which offered support to Pattelena’s friends and family. “I think it really had an impact on the entire community.”


Buchannan’s attorney, Jon Gale, said during Buchannan’s arraignment Monday in York County Superior Court that he is requesting an independent evaluation of his client.

York County Superior Court Justice Wayne Douglas ordered a mental evaluation of Buchannan by the State Forensic Service last March. The evaluation was supposed to cover competency to proceed, any abnormal conditions of the mind and any neurophysical conditions that may have affected Buchannan’s mental state at the time.

Gale said attorneys and the court received those results within the last month, but he could not disclose what they were.

If the court were to accept Buchannan’s plea, he would be committed to a state psychiatric hospital for an indefinite period of time.

If Buchannan’s case goes to trial and a jury convicts him of murder, he would be sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in state prison.

Attorneys for the state and Buchannan will meet for a status conference with the judge in June to establish next steps.

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