SANDPOINT — The father of young woman found slain in a remote draw at the south end of Lake Pend Oreille last year believes the suspect in the investigation capitalized on her deteriorating mental state in the days leading up to her disappearance.
“He took advantage of her,” Joe Serrano told a seven-member jury hearing evidence in Bonner County Coroner Robert Beers’ inquest into the death of Mirissa Serrano on Tuesday.
It was also revealed during the proceedings that suspect Danny Harold Neep met the 27-year-old woman randomly while dining with companions at a Lolo, Mont., saloon where Serrano was working in September 2017. Serrano agreed to accompany Neep back to his home in Spokane the following day.
Joe Serrano told the jury that his daughter was in treatment for a mental health disorder characterized by periods of mania followed by full-blown psychosis which left her particularly susceptible to undue influence.
“That’s what happened that day,” Joe Serrano said of Neep’s encounter with his daughter.
Joe Serrano further testified that her daughter’s descent began with a doctor prescribing benzodiazepine medication, which was exacerbated by her use of hallucinogenic and other drugs.
Neep, 62, gave differing accounts of Mirissa Serrano’s disappearance to Bonner County sheriff’s detectives, the woman’s father, and friends and acquaintances, according to inquest testimony. Neep told law enforcement that Mirissa Serrano walked off alone into the dense forest of U.S. Forest Service Road No. 278, but told Serrano’s father that she walked off with his drinking buddies. Neep told others that she either leapt from his truck or took off from the cabin in Lakeview they staying in.
Retired Det. Sgt. Gary Johnston investigators were unable to determine a reliable timeline of events from Neep despite his being interviewed multiple times. However, Johnston couldn’t help but notice that Neep declined to say Mirissa’s name and impersonally referring to her as “that girl” and “the waitress,” which Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall noted is not an uncommon occurrence with someone who is attempting to distance themselves from a crime.
Johnston also testified that Neep referred to Mirissa Serrano in the past tense, which further heightened his concern.
“That was raising flags in my mind,” Johnston testified.
Post Falls resident Michael Koch said he was scouting for elk when he encountered Neep, who insisted that he wade into the dense brush to find Serrano. But Koch said his unease grew the more Neep insisted he was a “good guy” and could be trusted. Koch begged off and doubted the route Neep said Seranno took was even passable on foot.
“I don’t think you could physically walk down there,” Koch testified.
Jurors also heard testimony from a forensic lab that conducted a toxicology examination on a tissue sample recovered with Mirissa Seranno’s remains, which recovered in Chloride Gulch a year after she was reported missing. The exam showed the presence of the psychoactive element of cannabis, an anti-depressant, a medication meant to block the effects of opiates and methamphetamine.
However, it could not be determined if those substances were present in lethal amounts due to the decomposition of the sample.
Polygrapher Skylar Ziegler, a Sandpoint Police officer, testified that Neep exhibited signs of deception when asked during a polygraph examination if he knew Mirissa Seranno was dead or where her body was located.
“He was not very thrilled when I called him deceptive,” Ziegler told jurors.
The coroner’s inquest is slated to resume on Thursday.
Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.