By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
In February, acting as his own attorney, Neal informed Judge Woodford that he was guilty "without a doubt, your honor." He also told the court that he'd met recently with a psychiatrist who "didn't see any reason why I was not competent." The judge then grilled Neal for nearly an hour, making sure he knew what he was doing. If he pleaded guilty to the three counts of first-degree murder after deliberation, his future held two possibilities: life without parole or death by lethal injection. "I understand that, sir," Neal replied.
After that hearing, Jim Aber, the public defender Neal had fired before entering his plea, criticized Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas for continuing to seek the death penalty. "This is a total farce," he told the press after Neal's guilty plea. "Seeking the death penalty against a person not represented by counsel is like trying to kill an unarmed man. There is no morality or justice in this."
Tingle and Bachmeyer considered that a cheap shot: If prosecutors dropped the death penalty every time a convicted murderer decided to go pro se, every murderer who wanted to avoid the possibility of a death sentence would automatically demand to represent himself. Except for Jeffco investigator Aceves, Tingle has had more contact with Neal than anyone else -- including his advisory counsel. As a pro se defendant, Neal had the right to contact Tingle to discuss legal matters, as would any attorney appointed to represent him. And he took full advantage of his cell-phone privileges, calling four or five times a week.
Although he was not allowed to tape their other conversations, Tingle kept the voice-mail messages; over a seven-month period, he'd accumulated two hours of Neal, at an average of a minute a message. It wasn't unusual to come to the office on Monday morning and find ten messages or more from the defendant, who would talk until cut off by the machine, then call back, often only to repeat the same information.
In fifteen years as a prosecutor, the forty-year-old Tingle had never run into anybody like Neal. The defendant was extremely intelligent, at least in his niche as a pathological liar and sociopath. He was also very meticulous, putting together an eighteen-inch-thick stack of case law regarding the death penalty in the United States.
It was clear from their conversations that he'd read every page of it, as well as the thousands and thousands of pages of discovery. And if there was a page Neal couldn't read or a clarification he needed, he'd stay after Tingle until he got what he wanted rather than let it slip, like most pro se defendants the prosecutor had dealt with in the past. Nor did the pressure seem to get to Neal: The day before the trial, he had reminded Tingle of several outstanding telephone bills for collect calls he'd made to his sister Sharon and two friends.
Of course, given the methodical way Neal had gone about the business of murdering three women and raping a fourth, his organizational skills shouldn't have been a surprise. Beyond their brutality, the one thing that stood out about these murders was the incredibly detailed web of lies he'd spun to trap his victims. He was indeed a master manipulator.
That was Tingle's greatest fear. He worried that the court, the judges and the jailers would underestimate Neal.
In their pre-trial dealings, Neal had always been courteous and respectful, often overly so. Although he would become irritated if some issue had not been taken care of quickly enough to suit him, he was never threatening on the telephone or in the dozen or so face-to-face meetings they had held. And he couldn't thank the prosecution enough for respecting him and helping him pursue his pro se course.
It made Tingle's skin crawl to hear him talk like they were on the same team. But then, he had the benefit of knowing what Neal had done. He'd been called to the scene while the bodies were still there. He'd prosecuted more than a dozen murder cases, all with their own grisly crime scenes and autopsy photographs, but none came close to those he'd had to study for this case.
Tingle had noticed something different about Neal this morning: The killer was wearing a new gold wedding band.
A few days before the trial, Tingle had received a call from deputies at the jail. An upscale Denver jewelry-store manager was complaining that the store was getting "harassing" telephone calls from Neal, who wanted a wedding set and felt he was getting the runaround.
Tingle knew that Neal had a new girlfriend, "Julie," a "trust fund baby" in Phoenix, according to a Jeffco investigator. She sent him money regularly and had even been up to visit him since his arrest. According to the investigator, Julia had met Neal in 1995 at a Lakewood bar, where he'd introduced himself by pulling up her shirt.
Incredible. Neal was still able to cast his spells inside and outside the jail. Ted Bundy, the serial killer executed in 1989 whose exploits had become favorite reading material for Neal, had married while on death row -- but at least his bride had been able to convince herself that he was innocent. Haircuts in the jail cost $6. Tingle has seen records that Neal paid cash for his -- and left $14 tips.