05/30/13 — Inmate fighting for new look at his case

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Inmate fighting for new look at his case

By John Joyce
Published in News on May 30, 2013 1:46 PM

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News-Argus file photo

William Neal sits in a Wayne County courtroom before his rape conviction.

William Jackson Neal, who is serving two life sentences for the rape of a 12-year-old girl, a crime for which another man spent 18 years in jail, wants a new trial or a change in his sentence.

Neal was convicted in 2011 after DNA evidence exonerated Dwayne Dail in 2007. Neal has filed a motion for appropriate relief in Wayne County Superior Court.

Should Neal's motion be granted, he could receive a new sentencing hearing or potentially have his conviction set aside, resulting in a new trial.

On Sept. 4, 1987, someone used a chair to climb through the bedroom window of Tomeshia Carrington-Artis in Jefferson Park. She was threatened with a knife and raped.

Neal was convicted just three years after Dail was set free.

Neal is now protesting the DNA evidence used to convict him, alleging that the evidence that was first thought destroyed, then later discovered, was not properly handled. He contends that the chain of custody, the method by which the evidence passes back and forth from the possession one person to another, was broken, and that there are periods of time during which the evidence was unaccounted for and thereby unprotected.

The evidence, including a nightgown containing a semen sample that eventually lead police to Neal, had been tucked away and forgotten about in a Goldsboro Police Department evidence locker. It was not part of the evidence used to convict Dail because DNA testing did not exist at that time.

"All of the material not introduced in the first trial was found in a paper bag, stapled shut," District Attorney Branny Vickory said.

The evidence that was introduced in the Dail trial was, as is required by law, destroyed after the first conviction. That evidence included the rape kit taken from the victim at the hospital, and the hair samples that were used to convict Dail.

Dail fit the physical description the victim gave police immediately after her attack -- but so does Neal, officials said.

Vickory said the motion would likely not be successful.

"A lot can happen to DNA over time and depending on the conditions (of the environment) where it's stored," Vickory admitted. "But no matter what degradation might occur, DNA cannot magically become someone else's."

Vickory said that all of the questions came up during Neal's trial, but that it wasn't any more relevant then than it is now. He said that the evidence was deemed admissible and the chain of custody was maintained because, even though the evidence was thought to have been destroyed but was not, it was never out of the control of authorities and remained sealed the entire time.

Neal also contends that his court-appointed attorney, Christopher Rogerson of Raleigh, did not vigorously defend the case and should have done more to protest the DNA evidence.

Rogerson was assigned to Neal's case after local defense attorney Charles Gurley resigned, claiming Neal undermined what he was trying to do.

According to the 153-page motion Neal filed, Gurley quit after Neal filed a petition on his own behalf to have medication from the prison he was in when first charged with the 1987 rape transferred to the Wayne County Jail where he was being held while awaiting trial. Neal claimed that his medication and personal effects were not sent along after he was transferred and asked that the court compel the prison system to either send over his belongings or transfer him back to Maury Correctional Center, his original prison.

Motions for appropriate relief are common practice for convicts who have nothing but time on their hands, Vickory said. He said he remains confident that the conviction will stand and that regardless of what happened with Dwayne Dail, Neal is the right man.

"He's guilty. It's DNA. He is absolutely the one who did it."