Neldon Neal, who eluded authorities for 62 days in the longest manhunt in modern county history, appeared Wednesday morning in Texas County Associate Court as a date for his preliminary hearing in the suspected murder of his common law wife was set.
It was the first public appearance for Neal since May 13, when a rare Sunday afternoon hearing in front of Judge Brad Ellsworth was held following his apprehension the previous morning. Ellsworth scheduled Neal’s preliminary hearing for Aug. 2.
Neal, who faces second-degree murder charges in the March 13 death of Judy Lewis, stood emotionless at the podium as his case was discussed. He wore a light-blue jumpsuit and was shackled at his wrists and ankles. He held a rolled piece of paper in his hands.
Neal spoke twice, first replying “No, your honor” when asked by Ellsworth if he had met with his public defender. When instructed to do so Wednesday, Neal replied “Yes, your honor.”
Ellsworth granted two motions by public defender Brian Woolley to preserve evidence and investigatory notes in the case. Woolley also asked that the preliminary hearing be held at the earliest possible date.
Neal disappeared into the woods with a pair of handguns following an argument in his Roby trailer that led to Lewis’ death. She was rushed in the back seat of her daughter’s car to a convenience store, where she was pronounced dead.
Four days after the murder, Neal appeared at a trailer in Evening Shade where he took a shower and received multiple items, including food, camping gear and a Bible. Four women face hindering prosecution charges for aiding Neal.
Authorities believe Neal, who turned 61 during the manhunt, spent about two weeks hiding in a hollow log on Sante Ann Road in northwest Texas County. One of his accomplices later took officers to the location, where food, beer and a copy of the Herald were recovered.
Neal left the log in late March for another hideout in Pulaski County, about 12 miles northwest of Lynchburg on the Gasconade River. It was there on May 12 that authorities, with the help of a tip, coaxed Neal out of a rock overhang and tackled him without incident.
Neal led his arresting officers to the location down a rock bluff, where tarps, sleeping bags, medication, water purification pills, fishing gear and food were found. It was five miles through the woods from his first hiding place.
Three women who aided Neal – Erica Moore, Mary Thomas and Evelyn Lansdown – waived their rights to preliminary hearings earlier this month. All three women were bound over until July 3 court dates in front of Circuit Judge Mary Sheffield. A fourth woman, Kathy J. McComas, will appear July 11 for her preliminary hearing.
Following Neal’s arrest, Texas County Sheriff Carl Watson said he believed two individuals from Pulaski County had helped Neal after he left his log hiding place in late March. Neither has been charged.