A Michigan man has been convicted of murdering 22-year-old Chelsea Bruck after she vanished from a massive Halloween party in 2014, which triggered a months-long search that ended when her remains were discovered in a dense woods.
Court officials tell PEOPLE that Daniel Clay, 28, was convicted Tuesday of Bruck’s first-degree murder.
Police say Bruck attended the crowded Halloween bash dressed as the Batman villain Poison Ivy, but she disappeared without a trace. Her naked body was found six months later, soon after police found her tattered costume.
Clay, who testified at his trial, has long acknowledged that he killed Bruck after they left the party together, but he insisted her death was accidental — claiming he inadvertently asphyxiated her in his car while the two were having sex.
“I didn’t mean for her to die,” he reportedly said on the stand.
Jurors did not buy that defense, and Clay now faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole when he is sentenced on July 13.
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Bruck suffered blunt force trauma to the head and had three identifiable injuries, according to court records, and asphyxiation could not be ruled out due to the body’s advanced state of decomposition.
But prosecutors argued during Clay’s trial that Bruck’s injuries were clear evidence her death was not accidental.
Her relatives could not be reached on Wednesday, though they were visibly emotional in court upon hearing the guilty verdict, according to the Toledo Blade.
Neither prosecutors nor Clay’s defense attorney immediately returned messages seeking comment.
After her body was found in 2015, Bruck’s brother, Nathaniel, took to social media to express his appreciation to those who volunteered to help.
“I want to thank everyone for their efforts,” he wrote. “And while this may be the end of the search, it is also a new beginning. The beginning of the search for justice for my sister.”
One prosecutor expressed a similar thought when speaking to the Blade after Clay’s conviction.
“No amount of criminal justice can ever bring Chelsea back, or the victim of any homicide,” he said. “But I think the verdict does speak volumes about what the defendant did that day, and certainly brings some measure of justice to the family as well.”