Neal, 42, rejected the plea offer last week. On Tuesday, a jury returned a guilty verdict after a previous jury deadlocked on the aggravated assault charge last October. Now he must spend 25 years in prison.
Assistant District Attorney Justin Jones prosecuted Neal last fall and was determined to finish the job before he leaves the district attorney’s office. Neal’s inability to get along with defense attorneys – he filed a bar complaint against the first and insisted his second attorney wasn’t doing a good job – had caused delays in the past.
Defense attorney Joshua Smith told the judge last week that Neal wasn’t cooperating with him and refused to talk with him. That made presenting a self-defense case impossible, he said.
Judge Michael N. Annis told Neal that he would not delay the trial again and that if he continued to refuse to talk with his attorney, Neal would be the cause of any shortcomings in the defense.
“The evidence showed that on Oct. 18, 2010, Bland came home and began packing Neal’s bags,” Jones wrote in an e-mail. “Bland was fed up that Neal was not working, was not helping with the kids, and was not keeping up the house. Neal did not want to leave and began choking her.
“Although Bland got away long enough to run toward the door, Neal caught her before she could leave and ultimately stabbed her nine times with a knife blade 8 inches long,” Jones wrote.
Neal stabbed Bland three times in the face, twice in the shoulder, twice in the chest, once in the neck and once on the right arm, Jones wrote.
“Two fingers on her left hand required surgery because as she was under him being stabbed, she grabbed the knife blade with her left hand in attempt to prevent him from stabbing her,” he wrote. “The best part of the story is that her neighbor Ronnie Jennings came to her rescue. Ronnie heard her screams from across the street and although his friends urged him not to get involved, he rushed to the front door and banged on it like a Richmond County deputy.
“(Neal) left out the side door of the house and left in Bland’s car. Had he not intervened, this would’ve been a murder case.”
After the conviction, Annis sentenced Neal to serve 25 years in prison, followed by five years on probation.