Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Addicted to Murder: The True Story of Daniel Conahan Jr.

Trial

On June 28, 1999, three years after his arrest, Conahan, who was scheduled to go to trial in August, gave a jailhouse interview to reporters. Lounging behind a wall of Plexiglas, in a graffiti-strewn room in the Charlotte County Jail, he maintained his innocence and said he was sure he would be railroaded.

William Melaragno
William Melaragno
Two days later, investigators identified John Doe #3, as 36-year-old John William Melaragno. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Melaragno moved to North Port in November 1995, with two women police believed to be prostitutes.

On August 9, 1999, Conahan waived his right to a jury trial, citing extensive media coverage and the fear of being convicted by a conservative jury because he was gay. Investigators suspected Conahan was a serial killer, with a fondness for trees, rope, and bondage, but they agreed not to bring up any other cases during the trial.

Conahan, while a suspect in at least five murders, was only charged with killing and raping Richard Montgomery. He was later charged with the attempted murder of Stanley Burden, while investigators were building a case against him in the Montgomery murder. However, after Conahan was indicted in the Montgomery case, the state dropped the attempted murder charges.

Judge Blackwell examines map evidence
Judge Blackwell examines map evidence
On August 10, 1999, opening arguments began. Presenting the state's case was prosecutor Robert "Bob" Lee. Conahan's lead attorney for the defense was Mark Ahlbrand. The presiding judge was 20th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge William Blackwell, known around the corridors as, "Stonewall".

Citing the barbaric manner in which the victim had been murdered, prosecutors said they would be seeking the death penalty. "The evidence will show that the defendant has a very dark fantasy. A dark fantasy that he would act out with very deadly consequences," Lee said during his opening statement. Lee then told the court that Conahan was a lethal phantom and would stalk the streets, soliciting transients to pose for money before assaulting them. He stated the defendant had deviant fantasies and a paranoid personality and it was the combination of the two that led to the death of Montgomery.

Lee described Montgomery as a high school dropout, who abused drugs and alcohol. "He was easy prey when he was drunk or when he needed some money." In an effort to show Conahan's evil nature, Lee described how Montgomery's body was discovered close to the bludgeoned and sexually assaulted remains of Kenneth Lee Smith. According to Lee, Conahan cut off Montgomery's genitals "with near medical perfection," skills he would have gained while working as a nurse at Charlotte Regional Medical Center. "He did this," Lee said, "because he felt that if he left them on the victim, investigators would take saliva samples and his DNA would have linked him to the murder. His terrible lust and passion spent and his dark fantasy fulfilled, he walked away with his gruesome trophy in his hand."

In contrast, Ahlbrand told Judge Blackwell that the defendant did have an interest in sex with men, but was not known to be aggressive in his relations with them. "This man is on trial not because he is guilty of the offense, but because he has adopted a lifestyle, which is similar to their scenario as to who killed Richard Montgomery. He matched their little profile," Ahlbrand said. Ahlbrand also claimed that Conahan's bad back made him incapable of committing the crimes for which he was accused. "They're describing this as a very brutal, physically demanding thing and he was on his butt for about two, three weeks, and he was bed-ridden for a couple months," Ahlbrand said.

Following opening statements, Montgomery's roommate was one of the first summoned to testify. He stated that, on the day of his disappearance, Montgomery told him he was going to make $100 for posing nude. He then left and walked toward Cox Lumber Yard, where Conahan presumably picked him up.

"When I asked him about it," the witness said, "he just said he'd be safe, not to worry."

"Did you ever see him again?" prosecutor Lee asked.
"No," replied the witness.

Under cross-examination by the defense, the witness admitted that Montgomery did not specify it was Conahan he was going to meet with when he left.

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