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Accused killer waives right to a jury trial

Daniel Owen Conahan Jr. is charged with killing one of five men found naked and strangled out in the woods.

A man charged with first-degree murder for allegedly killing one of five men in what prosecutors call serial murders waived his right to a jury trial Monday.

Chief Judge William Blackwell will be judge and jury for Daniel Owen Conahan Jr., 45, charged in the 1996 death of Richard Allen Montgomery, 21.

"The evidence will show that the defendant has a very dark fantasy _ a dark fantasy that he would act out with very deadly consequences," Assistant State Attorney Bob Lee said during opening statements.

Investigators have said Conahan, an unemployed nurse at the time of his arrest, had a penchant for picking up male drifters to pose for nude photographs and a proclivity for sexual violence.

He allegedly offered transients money to let him take nude pictures in the woods in Port Charlotte and North Port, then tied them to trees and killed them.

The five men were believed to be killed over a period of 26 months. Most were found naked, with strangulation marks around their necks. Three were sexually mutilated. Rope grooves were discovered on nearby trees.

Conahan, who faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault, has denied killing anyone.

His defense attorney, Mark Ahlbrand, said a bad back made Conahan incapable of committing the crimes.

"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 bedridden for a couple months," Ahlbrand said outside the courtroom.

The defense cited extensive media coverage in waiving Conahan's right to a jury trial.

Judge Blackwell, who normally sits in a courtroom in Collier County _ two counties south of Charlotte County _ likely will know about the case only from court records, the defense said.

Investigators said the murders started in February 1994. The last body was discovered April 17, 1996, in Charlotte County when a government employee found a severed human head in the woods.

The only other victim who could be identified was Kenneth Lee Smith, 25, of Naples. The genitalia of three of the victims apparently were severed.

Conahan was discharged from the Navy in 1978, a year after he enlisted, under threat of a court-martial for several counts of sodomy and physical assault. He was accused of attempting to lure servicemen away from the Naval Training Center in Great Lakes, Ill., to perform sex acts, and of striking one sailor on the head with a rock when he rejected his advances.

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