Charmin' Billy

William Cody Neal knew how to spin a story. Believing him was murder.

Jennifer found Cody at a Lakewood bar called Shipwreck's. He was surrounded by women and a few men, holding drunken court. He made a big show of taking his daughter around and referred to Jennifer as "my wife."

Afterward, Jennifer felt good about the meeting. She hoped that things would work out so that her daughter would at least grow up knowing her father. Then she received a letter from Cody warning her to "stay the fuck out of my life." He didn't want people to know about her or his past.

Although she didn't hear from Cody again, she stayed in touch with his family. That's how she heard when he was arrested for the murder of three women, Rebecca Holberton, Candace Walters and Angela Fite.

Life of the party: "Wild Bill Cody" Neal.
Life of the party: "Wild Bill Cody" Neal.
Rebecca Holderton, Candace Walters and Angela Fite all made fatal mistakes: They believed William Neal.
Rebecca Holderton, Candace Walters and Angela Fite all made fatal mistakes: They believed William Neal.


Previous Westword articles

"Judging the Judge,"
September 30, 1999
After a year on the Jefferson County bench, Brooke Jackson knows it can be a real hot seat.
By Steve Jackson

"Judgment Day,"
May 6, 1999
The state's first death-penalty panel spares the life of Robert Riggan.

The next day, she went to see him at the jail. For all Cody had put her through, Jennifer couldn't believe that he could kill.

"He was playing the part -- 'Oh, my little Baby Half-Pint. I've always loved you, Baby Half-Pint.'" He'd cried, she remembers, and choked up as he told her how much he needed her.

"Why'd you do it?" Jennifer asked. "You have everything. You can do anything."

Cody's tears were suddenly gone. He'd loved them all, he said, just like he loved her. "But that's what happens when you fuck with me."

September 20, 1999, Jefferson County Courthouse: William Lee "Cody" Neal shuffles into the courtroom in the standard-issue orange jumpsuit, white T-shirt and socks and blue slippers. Hunching over as he waits for the deputy to unlock the handcuffs behind him, he risks a quick glance at the spectator gallery.

If looks could kill, Neal would immediately crumple to the floor. The families and friends of his victims fill three rows in the gallery behind the prosecution table and spill over to the other side. Their eyes bore into Neal. Three of his victims -- the women he has already confessed to killing in the summer of 1998 -- cannot be here, but their supporters are, jaws clenched, voices muttering.

It will be up to Chief Deputy District Attorney Charles Tingle and Deputy District Attorney Chris Bachmeyer to speak for them.

Neal sits down next to his advisory counsel, Randy Canney. In front of Neal are a dictionary, yellow legal pads, a neat row of pens and a television monitor.

There is not enough room in the courtroom for everyone who wanted to get inside, but there are empty seats in the defendant's section. The first row behind Neal is kept empty by the deputies in charge of court security -- as much for his safety as anything else. Everything behind this front row is jammed. The second is supposed to be reserved for Neal's family members, although none are present. Instead, it's filled with associates of the defense counsel, such as representatives of the state's public defender's office, and Neal's supporters, of which there are a few. One is Byron Plumley, a representative of the anti-death penalty American Friends Service Committee and adjunct professor of religious studies at Regis University. A tall, thin, middle-aged woman dressed in black says her sister used to date Neal and that she is "like a sister" to him. A shorter woman with crosses dangling from her ears says she knows Neal from the days when he haunted Shipwreck's, the bar where he met at least one of his victims. "My seven-year-old daughter just loves Cody," she says.

In the far corner of the back row, a pretty, petite young woman nestles against a skinny young man. She's Jennifer, the defendant's fourth wife. Following Neal's arrest in July 1998, she had appeared on television newscasts to say that she supported the victims' families.

Jennifer thought this hearing would be over in a matter of minutes. She wanted to hear what sentence her ex would receive so that she could later explain it to their daughter. But after witnesses begin taking the stand and crime-scene photographs are shown, Jennifer will flee the courtroom in horror.

Those assembled now rise to their feet as the three judges -- Thomas Woodford, the presiding judge from Jefferson County, and Frank Martinez and William Meyer, both from Denver -- enter and take their seats at the enlarged dais built especially for death-penalty hearings. Since a recent law took such decisions out of juries' hands, Jefferson County has had more death-penalty cases than any other district. First there was Robert Lee Riggan Jr., who was spared in April. Then Daniel "Bang" Martinez Jr., who was also spared, in May. Third was Francisco "Pancho" Martinez Jr., now sitting on death row.

Most expect William Neal to join him soon.

Tingle walks to the lectern in front of the prosecution table and, after pausing to look one more time at his notes, begins. When they met William Lee Neal, he tells the court, Rebecca Holberton, Candace Walters and Angela Fite "were all vulnerable in one way or another and in search of happiness...He preyed upon each one of them. He promised to rescue them emotionally and financially. But he was a phony, a master manipulator. And he sucked them in with his lies and deceit."

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