04/21/10 — Jurors will hear evidence in Neal rape case

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Jurors will hear evidence in Neal rape case

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on April 21, 2010 1:46 PM

Jury selection in a 1987 rape case began Tuesday in a Wayne County Superior courtroom, after a defense attorney argued and lost motions to dismiss the charges and evidence altogether.

William J. Neal, 54, is accused of standing on a chair and climbing through a 12-year-old girl's Jefferson Park window and raping her in September 1987.

Another man, Dwayne Dail, spent 18 years in prison for the offense before genetic evidence was rediscovered and exonerated him in summer 2007.

Neal took the stand briefly on Tuesday, disputing testimony about the day Goldsboro police and State Bureau of Investigation technicians visited him at Duplin County Correctional Center in Kenansville.

The officers were there with a search warrant that allowed them to collect a DNA swab from Neal's cheek.

SBI agent Russell Holly and Kristen Meyer testified that they were there to obtain the DNA swab, and nothing else.

Neal and his attorney, Chris Rogerson of Kinston, disagreed and argued that investigators did ask him questions.

Investigator Bryant Canady of the Goldsboro Police Department concurred with the agents that no questions were asked of the defendant.

"Our purpose wasn't to speak with him, it was to go serve a search warrant," Canady said on the stand. "Nobody asked him a question, that I recall."

Canady said that Neal had questions for the investigators, however.

"(Neal said), 'When was this supposed to happen?' And I told him in 1987."

Holly, a Raleigh-based forensic biologist with the N.C. SBI, said that Agent Meyer also did not ask any questions of Neal. Ms. Meyer read the search warrant to the defendant.

"She (Ms. Meyer) may have answered some questions that may have been asked about the search warrant, but I don't remember anything more than that," Holly testified.

Rogerson said Neal claimed to have asked for an attorney more than once during the conversation, which was not recorded.

Investigators told him that they did not need to wait for him to get an attorney to take the DNA swab, because they had an active warrant for the genetic evidence.

The defense attorney asked Ms. Meyer about Neal's requests for legal representation, made at least once after his Miranda rights were read to him, according to testimony from both authorities and Neal.

"Do you recall Mr. Neal asking for an attorney?" Rogerson asked the SBI agent.

"I believe it was just one time," Ms. Meyer responded. "While I was reading the search warrant, he asked to clarify when this was supposed to have occurred.

"He also repeated, more than once, 'That was a long time ago,'" Ms. Meyer testified.

When Neal took the stand, he disputed that the agents had not asked him questions.

"(Ms. Meyer) asked where I was on that particular date (the date of the rape)," Neal said.

"Did she ask any other questions?" Rogerson said.

"My response to that was that it was a long time ago, I didn't know where I was 20 years ago," Neal said. "I told her I wasn't going to answer her question without an attorney."

Neal testified that the agent continued talking to him.

"She said 'You'd remember if you'd done something like that," Neal said. "I told her I didn't have any memory or recollection of committing a crime like that. I told her that I had only been convicted of drugs and property crimes, and I wasn't going to make any other statement."

Assistant District Attorney Mike Ricks, who is prosecuting the case with District Attorney Branny Vickory, said he doubted Neal's story.

"To think that a forensic biologist would interrogate a person that they were collecting a forensic sample on, is just beyond me," Ricks said.

"I would think that if someone was questioning the defendant, it would be the investigators, it would not be a forensic biologist from the SBI lab," he said.

Presiding Judge Arnold O. Jones denied Rogerson's motion related to the arguments -- that the warrant was served without following proper procedures.

Another of Rogerson's motions, alleging that there was no clearly delineated chain of custody for evidence in the case, also was denied.