(WARNING: Details may be disturbing to some readers.)
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said that Jeffrey Deel wrote the poem called “The Dash,” however, he did not author the poem.
MADISON TOWNSHIP, Ohio (WJW) – Nearly 40 years after the murder of 10-year-old Danny O’Donnell in Lake County, Ohio, his killer sent an apology letter to the boy’s family.
Jeffrey Deel, 53, is serving a life sentence and has been denied parole eight times. His next hearing is on April 20 and it’s his first time in front of the full Ohio Parole Board.
Deel was 16 years old when he passed the O’Donnells’ home in Madison Township and invited Danny to the nearby Bennett Road Beach on Oct. 23, 1984. A short time later, the fifth grader was found face down in Lake Erie.
“I beat, strangled and drug his innocent, lifeless body into the lake and abandoned him there. Then lied and denied everything,” Deel wrote in a August 2021 letter to the O’Donnells.
“When I talk about all the people that I have made victims of when I brutally killed your son Danny, in a fight that I should not have even started, I must also think about friendships that I ruined. You were friends with my parents. I took this away from you, too. My little brother Brian was Danny’s best friend. I took this friendship away from them, too.”
In the letter, which the O’Donnell family shared with WJW, Deel apologizes for the murder and includes a poem called “The Dash.”
“I know that if you are reading this letter, you are probably saying many things. Such as: I am still alive and Danny is not, or I got to enjoy life in prison and Danny is still gone, or you may have this or that and Danny has nothing– you took that away from us. I wish I could bring Danny back. I wish I could give you your son back.”
With the recent passing of Ohio Senate Bill 256, which retroactively bars life sentences without parole, the O’Donnells said they are nervous he could be released this time around.
“It’s kind of emotional to think of what we want to say,” said Kelly O’Donnell, Danny’s mother. “This letter doesn’t mean anything to me. At this point it’s just no, I’m not — Danny didn’t get the second chance, Danny’s not here because of what you did.”
The family is asking for people to write letters to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, and sign an online petition. Those signatures need to be in by Sunday night.
“He said if he ever got out, he’d kill us,” said Charles O’Donnell, Danny’s father.
They also keep people updated on the case on the Justice For Danny Facebook page.