04/20/10 — Neal begins to answer charges from 1987 rape

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Neal begins to answer charges from 1987 rape

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on April 20, 2010 1:46 PM

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William Jackson Neal listens to the proceedings during the early stages of his rape trial in Wayne County Superior Court Monday. Neal has been charged in connection with a 1987 attack on a 12-year-old in Goldsboro.

A crime scene investigator was on hand to supervise and attorneys donned blue rubber gloves when they handled all evidence, two unusually cautious measures in early stages of the rape trial of William J. Neal, which began Monday in Wayne County Superior Court.

Prosecutors say Neal is responsible for the 1987 rape that sent another man, Dwayne Dail, to prison for 18 years before he was exonerated in 2007.

The trial is being held in Wayne County's largest courtroom because of expected high attendance, although the seats were far from filled in the early hours of the proceedings.

Much of the day Monday was spent deciding what evidence would be allowed at trial -- including an alleged sex offense against Neal in Wake County that Raleigh prosecutors dropped in 1990.

Presiding Judge Arnold O. Jones decided the evidence would be allowed, despite the protest of Neal's defense attorney, Christopher Rogerson of Kinston.

Assistant District Attorney Mike Ricks is arguing the case for the state. Ricks told the judge that the law allows for liberal inclusion of evidence in cases of sexual offense.

"Both rapes occurred in the early morning hours; both rapes involved the use of a knife; both rapes involved a knife held to the victim's throat; both rapes involved a similar calm demeanor; both involved asking the victims to disrobe, then actually disrobing the victims themselves," Ricks said.

Ricks said including evidence of the Raleigh rape falls under a section of the law that determines whether its "probative value" outweighs its potential to unfairly influence a jury.

According to investigators, in the 1987 Goldsboro rape, Neal allegedly stood on a chair to crawl through the window of a 12-year-old girl who lived in Jefferson Park.

At the time of the original trial, in 1989, DNA evidence was not accepted as evidence. Instead, the state relied upon such things as a hair that was "microscopically identical" to Dail's. The hair was collected from a bedroom carpet.

The case also relied upon eyewitness testimony, particularly from the rape victim, who pointed at Dail when asked to identify her attacker.

But there were inconsistencies in the account -- the rape victim originally told police a white man with shoulder-length long hair was her attacker. At the time, Dail had a haircut that emulated rock star Billy Idol, short in the back and spiked on top.

Evidence had been scheduled for destruction by state law, but a now-deceased Goldsboro officer, referred to as R. Miller throughout court documents, put the parcel aside for unknown reasons.

In the summer of 2007, through requests on behalf of Dail by the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence, the evidence saved by Miller was found in an evidence room of the Goldsboro Police Department.

On Monday, attorneys probed the memories of witnesses at the original 1987 trial, including Karen Green, who handled evidence for Goldsboro police before becoming a Greensboro officer in 1990.

Also on hand was now-retired Sgt. Theodore "Ted" Simmons, who responded to the scene of the crime and was one of the lead investigators.

The two officers testified because Rogerson had entered a motion to suppress all evidence "for lack of chain of custody," meaning he questioned whether the evidence had been held secure from any possible tampering.

Rogerson and Ricks interviewed the former Goldsboro officers and Karen Sutton, a Wayne Memorial Hospital nurse who conducted the "rape kit" on the victim.

Dail, the wrongfully imprisoned man, said through an attorney that he will not be attending the trial as he originally had planned.

The trial proceedings were expected to continue today.