Drunken and outraged at his common-law wife, who he believed was having an affair, Neldon Neal chased Judy Lewis with a knife sharpener and teased her by pointing the barrel of his gun in her chest before shooting and killing her.
That’s how Marsha Sumrall remembers the moments leading up to Lewis’ death March 13 at Neal’s trailer in Roby. Sumrall, the former daughter-in-law of Lewis, provided the account Thursday at Neal’s preliminary hearing in Texas County Circuit Court.
After hearing testimony from witnesses presented by the prosecution, Associate Circuit Judge Brad Ellsworth ordered Neal, who faces second-degree murder charges, back in court Tuesday. Neal waived his arraignment and was ordered to reappear Oct. 2.
Sumrall said she was at the trailer with her 2-year-old daughter and Lewis the day of the murder. In the early afternoon, Neal returned home with a man known only as “Tator.” Both had been drinking.
According to Sumrall, Neal accused Lewis of having an affair and the two engaged in a heated dispute. It became so violent that Sumrall grabbed a hidden gun and attempted to kill Neal after he threw a bar stool and chased Lewis with a knife sharpener. The gun wouldn’t fire.
Neal retreated to a bedroom, Sumrall said, and returned with his own firearm. He pointed the long-barreled pistol at Lewis, who now had Sumrall’s gun, and after retrieving the other weapon, poked his gun several times at Lewis’ chest.
Sumrall said Neal threatened her and said, “Stop and I’ll shoot,” as she ran out the front door and toward her daughter. She said Neal was chasing her.
When she grabbed her daughter, Sumrall said she turned around to see Neal throw Lewis off his back. Sumrall said Neal pointed the gun at Lewis’ heart and pulled the trigger. She said smoke came out of Lewis’ chest before she crumpled to the ground.
“Were you able to see Mrs. Lewis’ hands clearly?” Anderson asked Sumrall, who replied yes.
“Was there anything in her hands? Anderson asked. “Were her hands reaching for Mr. Neal when the shots were fired?”
Sumrall said no.
Lewis was still breathing when Sumrall and “Tator” loaded Lewis into the back of Sumrall’s vehicle and rushed her to Walt’s Convenience Store, about one mile away.
Texas County Coroner Tom Whittaker, one of four witnesses called by Anderson, pronounced Lewis dead at the scene. Whitaker said Lewis, 51, died of excessive loss of blood due to the gunshot wound. There was an exit wound in her left back.
Neal sat emotionless beside his public defender, Jahnel Lewis, until Sgt. Kirby Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol played a taped interview with Neal from the day of his apprehension. As his account of the shooting played through the courtroom speakers, Neal closed his eyes several times and appeared uncomfortable.
Neal said in the tape that Judy Lewis tried to take the gun from him. He said he was talking with Sumrall when the weapon fired. Neal opened Lewis’ blouse and found a bullet hole.
“I said, “Honey, don’t die on me, please,” Neal said on the tape.
Neal said he stuck the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, but it didn’t fire. Sumrall said in her testimony that Neal didn’t pull the trigger. Both said Neal removed the gun from his mouth and shot the ground beside him.
Johnson asked Neal in the recording why retreated into the woods – where he eluded lawmen with the help of accomplices for 62 days – if he hadn’t purposely shot Lewis. Neal said he knew he violated his probation by possessing a firearm, and was fearful of authorities after he was severely beaten in prison.
“I told Tator I had to go, Judy would have the law on me, telling them that I shot her,” Neal said in the tape. “I didn’t shoot her.”
Johnson testified that Neal knew where to go in his bedroom to retrieve a gun. Johnson also presented into evidence a hand-written map Neal drew and signed of the location he had ditched the murder weapon. It was recovered from the roof of a mobile home just west of the murder scene.
With the help of four women who are charged with aiding him, Neal eluded authorities until mid May. Authorities, acting on a tip, found the suspected killer near a rock outcropping along the Gasconade River in a remote area of Laclede County.
Three women accused of giving Neal food, camping supplies and other items: Erica D. Moore, 31; Mary E. Thomas, 38; and Evelyn Lansdown, 32, entered not guilty pleas to charges of hindering prosecution. Another woman, Kathy McComas, 51, was to appear Wednesday for a preliminary hearing.