Charmin' Billy

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

He wants to live, Neal says, so that he can "zealously" serve Jesus in prison. He also promises to make "full restitution," although he does not say how. And finally, he promises not to cross-examine his rape victim or the murdered women's families so as to spare them further pain.

In his opening, Tingle didn't really outline the aggravators the state will seek to prove. So Neal does it for him.

The crime was "especially heinous, cruel and depraved," he says. "That's an accurate assessment." He killed two or more people by "lying in wait." True. He "intentionally" killed two or more people with "universal malice and extreme indifference to the value of human life." True. He killed a kidnapped person. True. He killed to prevent prosecution. "That's what precipitated the whole thing." And he killed for monetary gain. "Yes," he concludes, "all of the aggravating factors are present."

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.

As for mitigators, Neal suggests there are only three, starting with the "age of the defendant." Although he was 42 at the time of the crimes, earlier traumas had left him "a child...hiding and stalking...scared of being punished for what he had been doing and what he had become."

And the defendant may not have been in the frame of mind to "appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct," he says, speaking of himself in the third person before quickly admitting, "I knew that what I was going to do was wrong and chose to do it anyway." He only half-heartedly attempts to argue that the defendant may have been under "unusual and substantial duress... I've been through a lot of tough times in my life, but I don't see it."

What he had become, Neal says, did not "happen overnight...It took time to build a box to live in and hide. There's no light in that box, just the presence of evil -- and evil cannot stand the light."

No mitigator that can morally justify the crimes. "How can you justify the murder of three women and the rape of a 21-year-old, who'll be forever haunted by what she saw?" he asks. Neal says he wants to take "responsibility for the whole thing. I will not accept less." But on the other hand, he adds, "I want to live, and my only chance is to tell the truth."

Of one last, potential mitigator, that he does not pose a threat to society, he shrugs, then says: "I never expected to do what I did, but I did it."

On the second day of the trial, a small, young blond woman rises from the first row of spectator seats behind the prosecution table and approaches the judges. If this case had gone to trial, the woman would not have been allowed into the courtroom until her testimony. But since William Neal has already pleaded guilty, she is free to attend as much of the trial as she can stand.

Although she avoided all the hearings leading up to the death-penalty trial, she came for opening statements the day before, staying in the protective shadow of her mother or boyfriend as Tingle briefly outlined the horrors she suffered.

Now she keeps her eyes on Tingle and away from Neal as she meets the bailiff and swears to tell the truth on the witness stand. She states her full name for the record at the prosecutor's request; that name is not to be used by the media.

"How long have you been in Denver?" Tingle asks.

"My entire life," "Suzanne" answers. Twenty-two years. Her voice is so soft that she's asked to pull the microphone closer, which she does self-consciously by sliding her chair closer.

Tingle is worried. He can't testify for her: Suzanne has to be the one to put the judges in the middle of the crime scene and describe how horrific it was so that they know exactly the sort of defendant they are dealing with. After what she had been through, had Suzanne been adamant about not wanting to testify, the prosecutors would have understood. But she seemed to know how vital her testimony was going to be, and she never expressed the slightest hesitation about going forward. The prosecutors could tell, though, that she was scared to death.

In late 1997, Suzanne was roommates with "Beth," a woman she'd met at her work. Beth was older, divorced with three kids and struggling to make ends meet. They became close friends, rooming together and often going out for drinks and to dance. One hangout was a bar near work called Shipwreck's.

That was where she first heard about a guy named Cody Neal. Beth and some of her other co-workers knew him: He was a regular at the bar, where he could often be found from noon on.

"Do you have any specific recollection about how Mr. Neal was dressed when you would see him?" Tingle asks.

"Yeah, he always had a black cowboy hat on. When it was colder, he would wear a longer black, like a duster, coat and always wore boots...always in blue jeans," she replies.

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