Lawyer Joe Neal Jr. received three years of probation and 100 hours of community service at a wastewater treatment plant Wednesday as part of a plea bargain that reduced a felony rape charge to two misdemeanors.
The plea bargain came after a morning of testimony from the lawyer’s accuser, an 18-year-old baby sitter who claimed she was sexually assaulted Dec. 16 by Neal, 43, and his now ex-wife, Caroline Neal, at their home on Kings Way. Neal was indicted in March on charges of rape and furnishing alcohol to a person under the age of 21, but Assistant District Attorney Geoffrey Fogus acknowledged that the evidence was tenuous in the case.
“When you don’t have anything but what he said and she said, it’s tough,” Fogus told Superior Court Judge James Blanchard.
Under the conditions of the plea bargain, Neal pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct for the statements he made to his accuser, possession of marijuana and the original alcohol charge. He will serve three years of supervised probation and pay a $3,000 fine.
Blanchard said he initially felt that community service at a rape crisis center would be appropriate, but then Neal “probably wouldn’t be welcome there.” Instead, he sentenced Neal to serve his 100 hours at a sewage treatment plant “in keeping with the conduct in this case,” he said.
Blanchard accepted the plea bargain but acknowledged the perception that Neal was getting a “pass.”
“You are not getting a pass, but I do not feel the evidence is there,” Blanchard said.
Fogus presented the remaining evidence before the plea bargain was made. Though the accuser in the case couldn’t swear that rape had occurred because of her intoxicated state, Caroline Neal said in her first statement to sheriff’s investigators that the sex “wasn’t completely (the accuser’s) decision.”
The teenager made several statements that night that she wasn’t interested but Neal continued anyway, and “that was the part that made me the most upset,” Caroline Neal told investigators. Caroline Neal later changed her statement and last week called the district attorney’s office to say that rape didn’t occur, according to Joe Neal’s attorney, Tom Withers.
Further eroding the state’s case was an exchange of text messages the following day between the baby sitter and Neal. The woman said she texted him to determine what had occurred the night before, but the content of the graphic messages seemed to go beyond that inquiry.
In one exchange, read aloud by the baby sitter, Neal described himself as a “sex god” and the woman countered, “I’ll have to be the judge of that.”
“I dare you to be the judge of that,” Neal replied.
The messages continued in that manner until the woman said she “doesn’t want to be a tease.”
“You can be our babysitter and sex slave LOL,” Neal stated.
“I don’t know about that,” the woman replied, then later, “You’re going to have to contain yourself.”