04/22/10 — Lawyers make opening statements in Neal case

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Lawyers make opening statements in Neal case

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on April 22, 2010 1:46 PM

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William J. Neal

Attorneys gave opening statements in a 1987 rape case being retried in Wayne County Superior Court because DNA evidence exonerated one man, and implicated another, in the rape of a 12-year-old girl.

William J. Neal, 54, faces multiple felony counts in connection with the rape of a Jefferson Park girl in September 1987.

Another man, Dwayne Dail, who now lives in Florida, spent nearly 18 years in a North Carolina prison after being wrongfully convicted of the offenses in 1989.

Neal is accused of standing on a chair and entering the girl's room, holding a knife to her throat, disrobing her and raping her in 1987.

A jury of eight men and four women was seated Wednesday afternoon.

Assistant District Attorney Mike Ricks delivered an opening argument for the state.

"The evidence is going to show that on Sept. 4 of 1987, a young girl who lived in the Jefferson Park area went to bed. It was a warm evening, and as people used to do back then, she left her window partially open for ventilation. It had a screen on it. Somewhere between 2:30 and 5 (a.m.), this young girl was awakened by a man crawling through her window. She tried to run to her bedroom door to get away. But you'll hear evidence that her bed was under the window, and she really didn't have a chance to get away from the man at all. The man grabbed her. He told her not to scream. He held a knife to her throat," Ricks said. "Of course, the police were called, the young girl was taken to the hospital and the rape examination was done.

"And about a month or so later, the young girl was walking through her neighborhood. She thought she saw the man who raped her, that man, his name was Dwayne Dail."

At that time, the victim and her mother confronted Dail, Ricks said. The conversation between Dail and the girl's mother became heated, according to witnesses. After the encounter, police became interested in Dail as a suspect, he added.

"Mr. Dail was questioned, he was arrested, he was tried -- I believe in this very courtroom -- and convicted for those offenses against this young girl. But from the time police first questioned Dwayne Dail, and throughout the years afterward, Mr. Dail maintained his innocence. He said, 'You've got the wrong man. I did not commit this crime. Someone else did.'"

Ricks then referred to when Dail's sister, Diana Davis, called the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence and its leader, lawyer Chris Mumma.

"(The Center on Actual Innocence) contacted the Goldsboro PD, to see if there was still any of the evidence from this 1987 rape, because they wanted to test for DNA -- something that we didn't have (for use as admissible forensic evidence) in 1987."

One of the items that was found, by Goldsboro evidence custodian R.T. Smith, was the victim's nightgown. Despite being kept for at least two years in an evidence room without climate control, the gown still had a spot of bodily fluid on it.

The stain, which was reportedly still a viable DNA sample, was genetically linked not to the victim, but to her attacker, Ricks said.

"That nightgown was tested by the (State Bureau of Investigation), and DNA evidence did not come back to Dwayne Dail, the man who had been convicted. You're going to hear that it came back to another individual, and that's the man who is sitting in this courtroom today, William Jackson Neal Jr."

Ricks said that at the time of the assault Neal was living with his parents in Jefferson Park, the same neighborhood as the victim, just a few blocks away.

Defense attorney Christopher Rogerson of Kinston, who is representing Neal, started his arguments by saying there is no dispute that the victim -- who also testified on Wednesday -- had been sexually assaulted.

But he said his evidence will show that his client was at the beach at the time.

Rogerson argued that local and state authorities failed to work together properly to ensure that lab tests were performed thoroughly.

The nightgown worn by the victim was not tested by the SBI lab even though police had requested it be done, he noted.

The defense attorney also said that evidence was incomplete because the "rape kit" administered by the hospital had been destroyed.

"That's something we'll never be able to see again," Rogerson said.

All of the evidence in the case was scheduled for destruction, in accordance with state law.

However, an officer involved in the case who is now deceased, saved some of the evidence for unknown reasons.

Rogerson said his concerns about the chain of custody of evidence, police procedure and missing evidence are enough to cast doubt on Neal's guilt.

"They're still missing very important pieces of the puzzle," Rogerson said. "The sad thing is, there are several pieces of the puzzle that Mr. Neal will not get to ever see again, because it has been destroyed."

After opening arguments, the victim took the stand.

Testimony was scheduled to begin again this morning.