01/24/09 — Decades-old rape case reset for Feb. 16

View Archive

Decades-old rape case reset for Feb. 16

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on January 24, 2009 11:46 PM

A man Goldsboro police say is linked to a 1987 rape of a 12-year-old girl -- the same crime that sent an innocent man to prison for 18 years -- is scheduled to appear in court next month, a judge said.

Judge Arnold Jones said in court that William Jackson Neal Jr., 53, accused of first-degree burglary, a first-degree sex offense and first-degree rape, will appear in February for arraignment.

Former Goldsboro resident Dwayne Dail had already served 18 years in prison for the offense. Dail received a full pardon from former Gov. Mike Easley after new science proved he could not have committed the crime.

DNA evidence collected from the scene, which included a spot of semen on the girl's nightgown, was saved by a now-deceased Goldsboro police investigator and stored by chance at the police department.

Police said they did not know the evidence existed, adding that it normally would have been destroyed.

The spot was enough to free Dail and to connect Neal to the case. Police officially announced Neal would be prosecuted in early May.

Freed and exonerated Florida resident Dail, formerly of Goldsboro, spent most of his young life in prison after being accused of the crime.

The young victim's description of the suspect did not fully match Dail -- she said her attacker had a beard and long hair. Dail, at that time, had a 1980s "Billy Idol"-style haircut and family members said he could grow only patchy facial hair.

Neal is currently serving a seven-year sentence in Johnston County on a charge of habitual felony offense.

He also has a long previous incarceration record, for charges including felonious breaking and entering, possession of Schedule II drugs, financial forgery, and possession of a hypodermic needle.

It took more than six months to officially name Neal as a suspect and for prosecutors to proceed. Investigators said the wait was caused by an abundance of caution.

The presentation of the case against Neal might begin as early as Feb. 16, the judge said.

Jones added that Neal's status as an inmate at Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City led to the delay in the court date, originally set for last Tuesday.

Neal has no listed infractions or escape attempts in prison, and was last moved from Maury Correctional Institute in Hookerton after being moved there from Craven Correctional in Vanceboro, corrections records show.

Neal's case was not the only proceeding moved this week, as icy weather affected many Wayne County offices.

A rare snow in Wayne County cancelled court for nearly two days, which caused some confusion for those scheduled, district attorneys and local defense attorneys said.