A Massachusetts man accused of beating his domestic partner to death on a beach in York will be held without bail and undergo a mental health evaluation, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Jeffrey Buchannan, 33, of Bedford, Massachusetts, is charged with a single count of murder in the death of Rhonda Pattelena, 35, also from Bedford. A childhood friend described Short Sands Beach as a favorite place for the young mother to visit. But police allege that beloved spot is where Buchannan killed her Friday afternoon. He has been at the York County Jail since his arrest Friday, and he appeared from there by video for an initial appearance Tuesday.

Buchannan is not required to enter a plea unless a grand jury returns an indictment, and he did not speak during the hearing. He sat with his hands cuffed and clasped on a small table. Defense attorney Jon Gale requested a mental health evaluation, and Superior Court Justice Wayne Douglas granted it. Assistant Attorney General Lisa Bogue asked that Buchannan be held without bail, and Gale did not argue but could in the future.

The hearing was over in a matter of minutes.

“I expect the matter will be proceeding to grand jury,” Douglas said.

A spokesman for the Maine Attorney General’s Office said he did not have any additional comment on the case.

Gale, who was appointed to represent Buchannan, said the case is “in the earliest stages of this process.”

“I made the request (for a mental health evaluation) given the nature of the facts of this case as described in the affidavit submitted by the State, and additional information received by the State and received by me,” Gale wrote in an email. “Beyond this single issue raised by the Court at today’s initial appearance, it is too early to comment further on the case.”

Rhonda Pattelena Photo courtesy of Melissa Matranga

An affidavit said multiple people called 911 just before 4 p.m. to report a man beating and then dragging another person behind some rocks, and surveillance video from nearby businesses captured footage of Buchannan hitting Pattelena when her back was turned to him. Police later collected as evidence a rock that could have been used to beat her. An autopsy conducted by the state Medical Examiner’s Office Saturday found Pattelena died of a blunt force injury to the head.

“Following the assault, videos show Buchannan walking away from the scene alone,” a Maine State Police detective wrote in the affidavit.

Jeffrey Buchannan York County Sheriff’s Office

Police detained Buchannan after a witness pointed him out. He spoke to detectives at the York Police Department, and that conversation is described in the affidavit. He said that the couple was on the beach when he saw a man running toward him and felt threatened. He then “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.”

When the detectives asked for more information about his memories, Buchannan declined to speak to them further, the affidavit said.

Records obtained from the Massachusetts Department of Criminal Justice Information Services show that Buchannan was convicted in 2017 of felony kidnapping. The victim in that case was Pattelena, according to a spokeswoman for the Essex County District Attorney’s Office.

In that case, a Massachusetts State Police trooper encountered a distraught woman at Logan Airport who said her boyfriend had assaulted her and prevented her and her children from leaving their house for a period of time and then demanded to be driven to the airport, according to the district attorney’s office. Buchannan ultimately pleaded guilty in that case and served time in a county house of correction. He was released in 2018, and his probation conditions included mental health and substance use evaluations, as well as any treatment deemed necessary.

Buchannan also has prior convictions in Massachusetts – dating to 2013 – for carrying a dangerous weapon, larceny and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

Melissa Matranga, a childhood friend who lives in Readfield, Massachusetts, said Monday that the couple had been separated for several months before he moved back in with Pattelena this year. Matranga said she was deeply concerned about her friend’s well-being largely because she didn’t trust Buchannan. She called her friend daily to check in on her. The two women had a code word – ostrich – that Pattelena promised to text to Matranga if she ever felt threatened and needed help.

Matranga said she never got that text, and whatever happened on Short Sands Beach must have happened quickly.

“She loved him and that’s who she wanted to be with,” Matranga said. “She always saw the good in people.”

Pattelena had three sons – ages 17, 14 and 2 – and worked as a medical assistant and was studying to become a licensed practical nurse. Buchannan is father of the youngest child. Her friend has raised more than $40,000 for the boys in a GoFundMe campaign.

“On Friday, March 26, heaven gained an angel. My best friend Rhonda’s life was taken away due to domestic violence. Her life was taken too soon and we are still in shock. She was a single mother and leaves behind three beautiful boys,” Matranga wrote on the GoFundMe website. “Rhonda was a beautiful, loving, caring and generous person, she had such a big heart, she was always smiling and laughing. She was so full of life.”

Friends are planning a celebration of life Friday evening at the beach in York. They wrote on Facebook that they want to bring comfort to the place she loved.

“Come share in a night of comfort, support and awareness. Let’s make her favorite place have an everlasting memory of who she is and how loved she is,” the vigil’s organizers wrote on Facebook. “Say some words or just listen. Light a candle and join in giving strength and kind support to all family and friends affected by this tragedy.”

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