“You wouldn’t think he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing…”
When 16-year-old Angela Brown, a shy, quiet girl who didn’t like bars or partying, asked her mother if she could date Deandra Buchanan, Mrs Brown agreed, on the condition that she meet Deandra before he took her out. He came around a few days later, looking clean-cut and smart and was polite and friendly to the whole family. He spoke well, was charming and more than a little respectful. The Brown family were only too pleased to give him their blessing. In no time at all, the two would be a happy couple. Unfortunately, though, that happiness would turn out to be rather short-lived.
Deandra Mekel Buchanan had a good upbringing. His parents looked after him, took him to church, encouraged him to play sports and do well in school. The Buchanans were a model family in the community and ‘Dre’ seemingly had a bright future ahead of him. One day though, when Dre was still just a kid, all that changed in the blink of an eye.
His uncle dropped by and took him just outside the limits of their home city of Columbia, Missouri and showed young Dre something that would change his life, his mindset and his path forever - the wreckage of a motorcycle intertwined with the twisted, bloodied and lifeless body of his father. The sight, understandably, broke the young boy’s heart.
Buchanan’s life quickly spiralled downwards. Within just a few years, as a young teenager, he had gone from model student to wayward kid. Then petty thug and drug dealer. And ultimately, still at a tender age, a big-time player with a hair-trigger temper and a huge cache of weapons. He was, by this time, a fully-fledged criminal. Albeit one still capable of turning on the charm and appearing well balanced and normal when it suited him. In truth, though? He was anything but balanced or normal.
As he ascended the criminal ladder, Dre became acutely aware of the dangers that such a lifestyle presents. Suddenly, everyone was a threat. He became hugely paranoid. Security was now paramount at all times. As he saw it, he was only ever a minor slip away from a rival’s bullet or a pair of handcuffs.
By this time, his mask had begun to slip with Angela. He had initially kept his ‘job’ a secret from her and her family. Pretty soon though, he had no choice but to tell her. As the paranoia ramped up, so too did his dark side. Domestic violence became a very real problem; Dre began assaulting and controlling Angela, the abuse steadily worsening. Then one day, he snapped. The fallout from that snap would be huge.
Speaking from Jefferson County Correctional Center in Columbia, Missouri, Buchanan recalls the events of that night. Well, he recalls them to an extent, anyway…
It was November 7th, 2000. Dre was one of many guests celebrating his aunt buying her own home over at his stepfather’s place. Angela was there, as were scores of other family members and friends. It was a fun night, with music, laughing, drinks and real warmth. It was fun up until Dre began to lose his mind, anyway. Everyone knew he had become unpredictable, but on this night, he was seriously tense. Looking to cool off and calm down, he asked one of his crew to drop him off some weed to take the edge off. But instead of chilling him out, the blunt only intensified his paranoia…
Convinced that the people in the house were plotting against him in some way, Buchanan grabbed his shotgun and then, well, he doesn’t know what happened after that. Those in the house who were not then shot dead remember, however...
Here’s the rub. Buchanan claims that his weed had been spiked and had brought about a psychotic episode which caused him to effectively blackout and start gunning his relatives down. Whether it was cannabis psychosis, the effects of another drug or just flat out murderous rage, it’s not entirely clear. What is clear is that Deandra Buchanan shot three of his nearest and dearest stone cold dead that night. Shotgun blasts killed his Aunt Juanita Hoffman, his stepfather William Jefferson and the mother of his two children, Angela Brown. Buchanan shot Ms. Brown in the neck while she was carrying and shielding their five-month-old baby.
Buchanan claims that his weed had been spiked and had brought about a psychotic episode...
An officer from the Columbia Police Department arrested Dre later that night. It would be some two and a half years later before a verdict would come in and a sentence laid down.
There were plenty of witnesses to the shocking events of that night. Dre had a history of violent crimes too. Getting the conviction wasn’t the trickiest for the prosecution, as you can imagine. The real question the jury had to decide upon was whether or not he experienced that psychotic episode or not. Was he in control of his actions during the shootings? Did he demonstrate ‘deliberation’ in those actions? The jurors decided that he did.
It didn’t help that Dre fully confessed to his crimes in a police interview just after his arrest. In the video, shown in court, he demonstrates detailed memory of the events of the night. Pouring serious doubt over the whole ‘blackout’ scenario put forward by the defence.
Buchanan was found guilty of three counts of Murder One and sentenced to death. A jury of twelve peers voting ten to two in favour of the verdict. Dre Buchanan was to be executed for his crimes.
Less than a year later, though - a reprieve. A new Missouri state law was introduced that prohibited the death sentence in cases where the jury’s decision was not unanimous. His sentence was then commuted to a life sentence.
Inmate #1036512 still sits in prison, convinced that he wasn’t fully responsible for his actions, adamant that he’s a changed man and convinced that he’ll get out on appeal soon. Was Deandra Buchanan in control that night? Who knows. Is he in control now? Not in the slightest.
Deandra Buchanan’s story is a fascinating one. It’s also one that features in Death Row documentary series ‘I am a Killer’, in episode number 6.
Listen to the producers discuss the making of the series in the official podcast.