The conviction of a Roby man who led lawmen on a 62-day manhunt after allegedly killing his wife in 2007 was overturned Wednesday.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District, reversed the conviction of Neldon Neal. He received a sentence of 30 years after being found of voluntary manslaughter of his wife, Judy.
The case was heard by a jury drawn from Moniteau County and tried in Pulaski County on a change of venue.
Neal, 63, was charged with second-degree murder and found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. His lawyers, Brendon Fox and John Beger of Rolla, objected to the jury being given the option of voluntary manslaughter. The Court of Appeals agreed on Wednesday, holding that although the death occurred in the course of an argument between Neal and his wife, the state had agreed there was no “heat of passion,” a necessary element for voluntary manslaughter. The court said the jury should not have been given that instruction.
At trial, the state argued the evidence showed Neal had intentionally killed his wife. Neals’ defense was that her death was an unfortunate accident caused when she jumped on him and struggled for control of a gun he had taken from her during the argument.
The court agreed with Neal’s lawyers that since the jury had not found Neal guilty of second-degree murder, it was essentially a finding of not guilty. The court said it would be double jeopardy to remand the case for trial on that charge. Also, the court said the state had failed to prove a necessary element of voluntary manslaughter, he could not be retried on it. The case is remanded for the state to proceed on involuntary manslaughter if it choses.
“We never believed Mr. Neal was guilty of murder and thought it was a mistake for the jury to be instructed on voluntary manslaughter,” Beger said. “The law must be followed no matter which side you are on, and we are happy the Court of Appeals agreed with us.”
No new court date has been set.
Neal, who eluded authorities for 62 days after his wife’s death, earlier received a 17-year federal sentencing for possessing a weapon as a felon. The gun was found on the roof of a nearby trailer after Neal told officers of its location.