SANDPOINT — A Bonner County jury hearing testimony in Coroner Robert Beer’s inquest into the death of a Montana woman ruled her demise Thursday a homicide fueled by drugs and alcohol provided by the chief suspect in the case, Danny Harold Neep.
The jury of five men and two woman deliberated for approximately an hour and a half before concluding Mirissa Serrano’s death was not natural, nor was it the result of suicide or accident.
The jury further concluded that a contributing factor in Serrano’s demise was Neep’s knowledge of her whereabouts and failure to disclose that location to authorities. The jury also held that Serrano’s death was caused by criminal means.
“It is our opinion that the guilty party was probably Danny Neep,” the verdict read.
The jury’s conclusion comes in the slipstream of three days of testimony from Bonner County sheriff’s investigators, friends and associates of Neep, in addition to people who encountered Neep and Serrano in Lakeview and the rugged mountains which overlook the remote Lake Pend Oreille enclave. Jurors also heard testimony from a Montana doctor who treated Serrano for a mental health condition marked by bouts of mania and psychosis.
Neep, who has not been charged in connection with Serrano’s death, invoked his right against self-incrimination and declined to testify at the inquest, the first one in Bonner County in nearly 30 years. He is serving a two- to four-year prison term for illegally possessing a 20-gauge shotgun and a .22-caliber rifle due to prior felony convictions. The firearms were discovered in Neep’s truck while search-and-rescue teams combed the area off U.S. Forest Service Road No. 278 for Serrano in September 2017.
The remains of Serrano, 27, were discovered 12 months after her disappearance in Chloride Gulch, a steep and densely forested draw near the southern end of the lake.
The inquest appeared to rule out that Serrano had been shot, stabbed, strangled or bludgeoned as there was no testimony or evidence presented to support those causes of death. Jurors did hear testimony from a forensic lab which conducted a toxicological examine on tissue recovered from Serrano’s body, which detected the presence of cannabis, methamphetamine, an antidepressant and a drug used to block the effects of opiates.
However, the level of decomposition left analysts unable to tell if those substances were in amounts that would be lethal, according to inquest testimony.
The jury’s findings will be folded into Beer’s report to Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall, whose office will determine if Neep will be charged with a criminal offense.
Serrano’s father, Joe, believes Neep is responsible for the death of his daughter. He said she was 100-percent disabled due to her mental health condition and suspects Neep used that fact to prey upon her.
Joe Serrano said Neep attempted to obtain documents that would enable him to be the beneficiary of his daughter’s disability benefits.
Neep, 62, met Mirissa Serrano randomly while she was waiting tables in a Lolo, Mont., saloon. She agreed to return to Spokane with Neep despite only having just met him. That decision and other peculiar behavior indicated to Joe Serrano that his daughter was obviously in the throes of a mental breakdown when she encountered Neep.
Joe Serrano said his daughter was a sweet and caring person who did well academically until mental health issues emerged as she reached adulthood.
“When she was stable, you couldn’t tell she was mentally ill,” Joe Serrano said.