Kevin Neal, Convicted of Murder by Forensic Entomology
'Hurt Someone They Love'
It would be another year before Kevin Neal stood trial for the murders of India and Cody. Declared indigent by Champaign County Common Pleas Court Judge Roger Wilson, Neal was defended by three attorneys from the state Public Defender's Office led by Gregory Meyers, senior attorney in the Office's capital crimes section.
After denying a motion to change the venue of the trial out of the small county west of Columbus, Ohio, Wilson had his clerk send out juror questionnaires to 500 residents on the voter registration rolls. In the weeks leading up to the trial, Wilson, Meyers and Prosecutor Nick Selvaggio pared the list down somewhat by excluding the potential jurors with obvious conflicts. Finally, in mid-April 2000, the remaining potential jurors, veniremen in legal parlance, were summoned for the selection process.
Taking the veniremen a dozen at a time, the sides narrowed the group down to 12 jurors and three alternates. The care exercised in finding an unbiased jury was evident. The court needed a group that was not affected by the massive pre-trial publicity, was capable of weighing only the facts placed in evidence and who could recommend the death penalty if necessary. In the transcript of Kevin Neal's trial, the eight-day jury selection process — voir dire — takes up more than 2,000 pages.
On May 11, 2000, the trial of Kevin Neal began with the jurors taking a trip to the Neal farmhouse and the cemetery where the children were found. Following the jury view, they heard the opening statements of Selvaggio and Assistant Public Defender Marc Tripplett. In his opening, Selvaggio laid out the basis of the State's case.
"India and Cody did not simultaneously die of natural death or disease. They were murdered,'' Selvaggio said. "India was left to rot on top of discarded fence posts lying on her back, and little brother Cody was found lying with his back next to his big sister. India and Cody did not casually walk into a wooded area, take off their clothes, and lay down and die. The killer left (them) to Mother Nature's care.''
For the first time, the public learned about Sue and Kevin Neal's marital problems, and their mutual accusations of infidelity. The jury also heard Selvaggio provide the state's theory about motive: Revenge. When Neal, serving a brief sentence in the Champaign County jail, learned his wife had "laid under another man" (Neal's words), he was asked by another inmate if he planned on beating up the man who slept with his wife. Neal said no and added, "the way you hurt someone who has hurt you is to hurt someone they love,'' Selvaggio told jurors during his opening statement.