01/08/10 — Judge: Neal trial will stay in Wayne

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Judge: Neal trial will stay in Wayne

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on January 8, 2010 1:46 PM

The trial of William Jackson Neal will remain in Wayne County, and no out-of-the-ordinary considerations will be taken when picking a jury here, Judge Arnold Jones said in a Thursday morning decision.

Neal stands accused of a 1987 rape of a 12-year-old girl. Authorities allege he climbed through the pre-teen's Jefferson Park window to commit the sexual assault.

Neal's defense attorney, Christopher Rogerson, argued Wednesday that pre-trial publicity was too great to allow for a fair trial in Wayne County.

Neal's trial is unusual in that another man, Dwayne Allen Dail, now of Florida, has already been tried, convicted, then exonerated and freed under the same charges.

Rogerson argued that the notoriety of the Dail case was likely to taint Wayne County's jury pool -- and the defense attorney argued that a fair trial was impossible here for that reason.

Before Thursday's proceedings began, the defense attorney took time to note that media had been present during both Wednesday and Thursday's hearings.

"Unbeknownst to the state and myself, while we were making these motions, we actually had a member of the media present," Rogerson said. "This same individual is present in the courtroom, and again this goes to the very pre-trial publicity concerns that I have."

The judge said he would "note the argument as an addendum to what (Rogerson) presented" during motions on the previous day.

However, the judge disagreed with Rogerson's assertion that pre-trial media coverage of both Neal and Dail would prejudice a jury here.

He also agreed with Assistant District Attorney Mike Ricks' assertion that the most effective way to find out if prejudice exists is to ask the potential jurors themselves.

"The best and most reliable evidence can be drawn from prospective jurors response during the jury selection process," Jones said, citing a case he believes sets groundwork for such a decision in Neal's case.

The judge also rejected a secondary request by the defense for a special jury "venire'' which would have called for out-of-county jurors to be selected to hear the case.

Lastly, Jones rejected Rogerson's request that jurors be sequestered during jury selection and also rejected a request that each individual juror be asked questions individually.

"I think that ruling will satisfy the three issues that were brought to my attention yesterday," the senior resident Superior Court judge said.

Jones has also asked Rogerson to submit requests to limit media coverage, and has promised to rule, in short order, on whether cameras or other electronic equipment will be allowed in the courtroom.

According to state corrections records, Neal's whereabouts within the prison system is "not public information."

His attorney requested that Neal remain in his current location for convenience in communicating with him.

Jones said the case would proceed relatively quickly.

"It's the court's intention to have this matter tried in the first part of this year," he said.