Kevin Neal, Convicted of Murder by Forensic Entomology
The Jury Decides
For the first time over the course of the nearly month-long trial of her husband for killing two of her children, Sue Neal was in the courtroom to hear the jury's verdict.
Following closing arguments and lengthy instructions from Judge Roger B. Wilson, the jury deliberated for six hours over two days before announcing to the court that it had reached a unanimous decision. If the jury found Neal guilty of aggravated murder with the death penalty specifications — in this case, that he was guilty of the purposeful killing of two or more people — the court would then move to the penalty phase of the trial where the jurors would be deciding between life and death for Kevin Neal.
Wilson admonished everyone in the courtroom to keep their emotions in check as the verdicts were read.
"If there is reason to express emotion, it takes place outside the courtroom," he said. "Everyone is required to observe that rule of procedure, difficult as it may be."
Then Wilson read the verdict forms. On the two counts of aggravated murder, the jury convicted Kevin Neal and found that the state proved the death penalty specs beyond a reasonable doubt. Neal was also convicted of gross abuse of the children's corpses and guilty of tampering with evidence. Earlier, at the conclusion of the state's case, Wilson had tossed the kidnapping charges from the indictment for lack of evidence, so those charges were not considered by the jury.
Neal maintained his innocence as he was led from the courtroom. "I did not do this," he said. "My conscience is clear."
Three days later, the same group gathered for the penalty phase of the trial — in effect, a mini-trial to determine if the aggravating factors of Kevin Neal's crimes outweighed the mitigating factors, both sides would be allowed to call witnesses to help make their case.
The only sworn witnesses in this phase were a pair of corrections officers who testified that Kevin Neal was a model prisoner while under their direction.
Kevin Neal took the stand to give an unsworn statement, which meant that he could not be questioned by either the defense or the prosecution. As expected, he stood by his claim of innocence.
"The whole ten months I sat here, and I stood my ground and said I did not do this," he said. "Now, you people have found me guilty of it. And I still say I did not do this. I did not kill my kids.
"All I can do is tell you people the same thing I've told them. I didn't do this, and I'm standing my ground. How it's gotten to this point, I don't understand."
After Neal's statement, the jury retired again to consider his fate. This time they took just one day — five hours — to reject the death penalty and to decide that Kevin Neal should spend the rest of his life behind bars.
"It's not fair!" Sue Neal shouted as the decision was announced. "All he's going to get is (expletive) life!" She started toward the defense table. "I hate you!"
Just like they had to do three years earlier outside a farmhouse in rural Champaign County, sheriff's deputies had to restrain Sue Neal to keep her from attacking her husband. Across the courtroom, unnoticed amid the commotion, in the corner of a window that overlooked the carefully manicured courthouse lawn, a solitary fly buzzed futilely against the glass, driven by instinct to seek the Kentucky bluegrass on the other side where, most assuredly, there would be a place for her eggs.