A week after Danuel Drayton was apprehended by police in Los Angeles, saving the life of a female hostage, The New York Daily News scored a jailhouse interview with the self-professed serial killer, who blamed his alleged crimes on “voices” using “direct-energy weapons on me to control my mind.” Drayton told the paper that he is “a passenger in my own body,” and suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar II disorder, though police told the Daily News that he has no history of mental illness. In Los Angeles court on Monday, Drayton pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder, forcible rape, false imprisonment by violence and sexual penetration by foreign object.
Drayton will be extradited back to New York by the end of August to face charges for the murder of Samantha Stewart, a nurse he met through the dating app Tinder, who was found strangled to death at her apartment in Queens, New York, on July 17th. Drayton reportedly used Stewart’s credit card to purchase a one-way plane ticket to Los Angeles, where he took a third woman hostage after reportedly sharing an Uber ride, sexually assaulting and beating her over a period of two days. A joint New York-New Jersey Task Force, which was investigating Stewart’s murder, tracked Drayton to L.A., where authorities there were able to find and arrest him in the knick of time. Once he was in custody, authorities say that Drayton confessed to killing seven other people in New York and Connecticut, but they have not yet been able to connect the 26-year-old to those deaths, raising doubt about the veracity of his claims.
In his interview with the Daily News, during which he reportedly paused several times to address people who weren’t there, Drayton admitted to killing Stewart after they went on a pizza date, and recalled strangling her until he felt her body go “stiff.”
“I really liked her. I didn’t want to kill her,” Drayton said in the interview at the Twin Towers men’s jail in Los Angeles. “They told me she had to die.”
Though he admitted to using bleach to clean up after Stewart’s murder, Drayton also told the Daily News that he wanted to get caught, and purposefully left behind his cologne and kept his cell phone so police could track him.
“I didn’t want anyone else to get hurt,” he claimed.
Drayton is also accused of strangling and raping another Tinder date in Brooklyn in June, though she survived. Drayton told the Daily News that he did not remember the alleged assault, but claimed that the “voices” in his head sometimes cause him to black out.
“That’s the Black Island,” Drayton said. “They make it so I can’t remember.”
Drayton told the Daily News he does recall choking his ex-girlfriend, Zynea Barney, during a fight in late June; he was arrested, but a Nassau County judge released him without bail just 12 days before Stewart’s murder. Barney, who dated Drayton for six months after meeting him on the dating app Plenty of Fish, told the Daily News that she believes he is “play[ing] crazy” “so he won’t be with the regular (prison) population,” a tactic she says he bragged about using in the past.
““He was like, ‘Yeah if you just sit there and act like you didn’t have any control over stuff, you could get off the hook with anything. I got it done before,’” Barney recalled. She went on: “I wish I could speak to him for a second and say, ‘Stop what you’re doing. Stop lying. Stop pretending you’re this psychopath to get off easy. You knew what you were doing.'”
To plead “not guilty by reason of insanity” in a criminal case means to argue that a defendant is not responsible for their actions due to an episodic or persistent psychiatric disease at the time of the criminal act. The defense is available in Federal court and in all states except Idaho, Kansas, Montana, and Utah, but proving legal insanity is much more complicated that simply appearing (or pretending) “to be a psychopath” in interviews with police or the media. For starters, the definition of “legal insanity” varies according to state statutes and the use of one of three accepted tests.
California, where Danuel Drayton is charged with attempted murder, uses what’s called the “M’Naghten Rule,” in which the defendant has the burden to prove insanity (a few states place the burden on prosecutors to disprove insanity). Often referred to as the “right/wrong test,” the M’Naghten Rule was established by the English House of Lords in the mid-19th Century, and requires a defendant to meet one of two criteria — that at the time of the crime, they were either one, “laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of mind” that they did not “know the nature and quality of the act”; or two, “if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.”
In other words, to argue the defense in California, Drayton would need to prove that he either was not aware of what he was doing at the time that he allegedly took his fellow Uber passenger hostage and abused and sexually assaulted her over a period of two days, or he did know, but was unable to determine that his actions were wrong. (Lorena Bobbitt, for example, was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity for cutting off her husband’s penis.)
In New York, where Drayton is expected to face charges for the murder of Samantha Stewart, the definition of legal insanity is determined by the “Model Penal Code” test. The burden of proof is still on the defendant, and requires a diagnosis for a relevant mental disease or defect (schizophrenia disorder is one example) and that they meet one of two criteria — that at the time of the incident, they were either unable to, one, “appreciate the criminality of [their] conduct”; or two “conform [their] conduct to the requirements of the law.” So, to plead insanity for the murder of Samantha Stewart, Drayton would need to be diagnosed with an accepted mental disease or defect by a licensed psychiatrist approved by the court and either prove he didn’t know right from wrong or could not control the impulse(s) which led to Stewart’s death.
If Drayton intends to use an insanity defense in either case, these particulars would likely be addressed first in pre-trial hearings, as the plea automatically requires the court to determine competency to stand trial. A defendant can be found unfit if they don’t understand the character or consequences of the proceedings or are unable to aid in their defense. But that doesn’t mean they walk free. Robert Dear, who is charged with the November 2015 mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, has been found unfit to stand trial twice now, and for the time being, he remains in custody at a state psychiatric facility.
While an insanity plea tends to attract media coverage when it’s used, creating the illusion that it’s commonplace, it’s actually quite rare — an eight-state study published in 2001 found it was used in just one percent of cases, with a 26 percent success rate, and 90 percent of those defendants who were found not guilty had a previously diagnosed mental illness, most often schizophrenia. A “not guilty” finding in these cases is almost always accompanied by a court-determined commitment to a psychiatric facility until mental health officials determine they don’t pose a danger to society. Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, the Wisconsin 12-year-olds who lured a classmate into the woods and stabbed her 19 times to please the fictional character “Slender Man,” were both found not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to lengthy terms at psychiatric institutions.
However, that’s the best outcome a defendant who pleads insanity can hope for — and it’s rare. At the end of the day, psychiatrists and other medical experts may testify that, based on their expertise, the defendant was legally insane at the time of the crime, but they aren’t the determiners of fact. That’s up to a judge, or far more often, a jury — and time and time again, juries have found “not guilty by reason of insanity” tough to swallow, especially in murder cases. It didn’t work for serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy, so the odds don’t look good for Danuel Drayton.