Jeffrey Buchannan, right, and his attorney, Jon Gale, listen to Rhonda Pattelena’s friends and family during his sentencing on Wednesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

A Massachusetts man who admitted to beating his partner to death three years ago in York Beach was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years in prison.

Jeffrey Buchannan, 36, pleaded guilty to murder this month for killing his longtime partner, 35-year-old Rhonda Pattelena, on March 26, 2021.

Attorneys on both sides said afterward that they thought the sentence was fair. But before the sentence was delivered, Pattelena’s friends and family had pleaded with Superior Justice Richard Mulhern to sentence Buchannan beyond the 43-year cap agreed to with prosecutors.

“Rhonda’s rights were taken by the defendant,” said her mother, Lauri Pattelena. “He shouldn’t have any either. Her ability to live, breathe, watch her boys and love them unconditionally were taken at the hands of an evil monster.”

Rhonda Pattelena Courtesy of Melissa Matranga

Pattelena’s loved ones wore shirts reading “Justice for Rhonda” as they sat in the York County courtroom. Her friends, mother and sister read handwritten remarks to the judge. They described a mother devoted to her three sons and a passionate caregiver for countless others as a certified nursing assistant. She hosted many gatherings for her “squad,” friends said, for which she made “enough food to feed an army.”

And Pattelena loved the man who killed her, they said.


Assistant Attorney General Lisa Bogue said police found a letter Pattelena had written Buchannan “full of her love for him, her want for a marriage with him, her want to build a life with him.”

“What makes her senseless tragic murder all the worse is that it was committed by someone she loved,” Bogue said. “It was committed by someone that she only wanted love from in return.”

Buchannan apologized in court to Pattelena, her family and his own family.

Prosecutors said their case against Buchannan was damning. They described surveillance footage, a Snapchat video and several witness accounts that proved Buchannan beat Pattelena with a rock on Short Sands Beach and attempted to hide her body before fleeing.

Assistant Attorney General Lisa Bogue watches as family and friends of Rhonda Pattelena prepare to give victim-impact statements during Jeffrey Buchannan’s sentencing. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

On Wednesday, Bogue handed Mulhern the rock, protected by a plastic bag, so he could examine the weapon. Pattelena’s family breathed sharply from their seats as Bogue described the injuries it caused.

Before delivering the sentence, the judge said he again watched the video of her death.


“This is an act of domestic violence,” Mulhern said. “Completely unprovoked … The defendant executed her and she never saw it coming.”


On the morning of March 26, 2021, Buchannan and Pattelena left her home in Bedford, Massachusetts, where prosecutors said the two were likely living together at the time.

Pattelena had a restraining order against Buchannan. He had a long history of domestic violence and other crimes against her and others. Some of Pattelena’s closest friends and family weren’t even aware they were back together, prosecutors said. The pair had had an “on again, off again” relationship for more than seven years.

The couple shared a son, who was 2 years old at the time. After his arrest, Buchannan told police that the couple were planning to get married the following Monday.

But Bogue argued Buchannan didn’t want to commit to Pattelena, and that’s why he killed her – hitting her from behind “at one of the most special places to her in her life,” York Beach.


Lauri Pattelena told police that she noticed something was off on that day when her daughter FaceTimed her from inside her car. She said her daughter’s makeup was smudged as if she had been crying and she was obviously trying to show where she was and who she was with.

Jessica Pattelena tells the court about how she took in her sister’s three children after her death. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

When the day care center called Lauri Pattelena to say her daughter never picked up her son, she knew something was wrong.

“She wouldn’t be late and never not show up for her baby,” Lauri Pattelena said in court.

Rhonda Pattelena was sending a Snapchat video to a friend when Buchannan first hit her, court documents state. Pattelena fell out of the frame, but Buchannan’s arm was seen going up and down repeatedly.

Several people also saw the attack. One man followed Buchannan as he started to leave the scene.

An off-duty firefighter approached Pattelena, whom Buchannan had dragged behind a pile of rocks, and found her bloody and unresponsive.



Police caught Buchannan soon afterward. He told detectives he had schizophrenia and had forgotten to take his medication, according to prosecutors’ sentencing memo, but Bogue said he had never been diagnosed.

Buchannan’s attorney, Jon Gale, argued that his client killed Pattelena during a mental health crisis and pointed to a time when Pattelena had taken him to get psychiatric care weeks before her death.

“She said he was suffering from delusions and paranoia of him being poisoned and followed,” Gale said, which was either evidence that Buchannan did suffer from delusions, or a “remarkable acting job to serve no purpose to himself.”

Buchannan’s sister, Brittney Buchannan, told the judge that her brother had a hard upbringing, including physical abuse, and that his mental health was worse than ever by early 2021.

She told Mulhern that she had invited her brother to California, where she lived, to stay and work with her.


“Although I loved him being there because I hadn’t seen him in years, I did realize things seemed different,” Brittney Buchannan said.

Her brother talked about being followed. She had to buy him fast food because he didn’t trust what she served him. He kept talking about his oldest son and his friends living next door to her, even though they were hundreds of miles away back in Maine.

“I’m not saying that my brother is not guilty. I just want the court to know about him today,” Brittney Buchannan said.


In the three years since her death, Pattelena’s family said they still struggle with her loss.

Her oldest son graduated from high school on what would have been his mother’s 36th birthday. Then he joined the Marines. Her second son is starting to drive and preparing to graduate from high school himself.


Her youngest, who was 2 at the time of Pattelena’s death, is now in school.

“She should be able to put him on the big yellow bus and she never will be able to, because of this crime,” said her sister, Jessica Pattelena, who took in her sister’s children.

She said she has spent hours in courtrooms, not only for Buchannan’s criminal case but to obtain custody rights to her nephews in Massachusetts family courts.

Rhonda Pattelena’s friend Angela Patch said Wednesday that they talked almost every day, although their communication faltered in the months leading up to Pattelena’s death as they both struggled with personal events.

“We had so many plans for the future,” Patch said. “Who’d have thought that in just a few months, that’d be ripped away from us?”

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