By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Now, on the witness stand, Tara says she met Cody once and was not impressed. She thought he was full of bullshit. But her sister believed him "because she wanted all that so bad."
At one point, Angela had mentioned that she thought Neal was going to ask her to marry him. But toward the end, she was ready to get away from him. "She said, 'I'm about there,'" Tara recalls.
As she testifies, Tara frequently faces Neal -- but he can't hold her gaze. He wipes at his eyes when she recounts when Mike Kelly told Angela's five-year-old son, Kyle, that Cody Neal had killed his mother. "No," Kyle had cried. "No, he was my friend. He bought me a bear."
Tara is followed on the stand by Angela's mother, Betty Von Tersch. Her daughter was a straight-A student and "a good little girl." When she asked Angela to meet the mysterious new man in her life, who said he'd been a "hitman" for the mob and "only went after bad guys," her daughter had said he wasn't ready to meet her family yet.
On July 4, Angela had been happy. The next day, she told her mother, Cody was going to show her "the surprise he had for her." It was the last time they ever saw each other. Several days later, she realized something was wrong when the babysitter called and said Angela had not picked up Kyle and two-year-old Kayla.
Angela's family first heard about the Lakewood murders from press reports. It was unclear who had died; there were so many rumors. She hoped that her daughter would call soon and say, "You'll never believe what happened, but I'm okay.'"
But that call never came. "Everybody handles it a little differently," Angela's mother says. "Everybody hurts a little differently. I've cried almost every day for a year and two months." Kyle cries, too. Kayla, too young to grasp what happened, toddles around the house, hugging pictures of Angie, picking up a toy telephone to call her mother "in heaven."
Betty also has written a letter to her daughter, to "My Dearest Little Angel Angie.
"I miss you so much. I wish I could physically just see you and talk like we used to, hold you and let you know that everything will be okay, even if only for one minute. When I learned of your death, a darkness prevailed over me for many months and at times reoccurs. When Cody took your life, he also took a huge part of me that can never be replaced. At that point, my life changed forever.
"Every day, I try to accept the fact that you are gone and you are not coming back. Some day, after time, I think that peace will come to me. I cannot accept the tragedy that happened to you. No one deserves to die the way you, Candace and Rebecca did. Not one of you girls wanted to die. You did not have the chance to make that choice.
"I do know in my heart that even though we have had those beautiful memories of our happy times, life's hardships and struggles and the darkness and gloom of a gruesome tragedy, that the love and bond between a mother and daughter never dies.
"The loss of a child is the most painful experience a mother will ever endure...There are a lot of missing pieces to this whole thing that I still do not understand and may never, until I see you again. Please give me and everyone in our family the strength to understand this so we can someday have a normal life again.
"For the rest of my life and even beyond, I will do everything I can to love, protect and care for your babies, Kyle and Kayla. I love them as much as my own children. It breaks my heart to know your children will grow up without their mother. They have been deprived of the love, hugs, kisses and comfort of their mom. Your family is giving them that for you with all we have to give.
"Sweetheart, you never deserved what happened to you. You were a person who had a heart of gold and cared about people. Unfortunately, this awful thing did happen and now we all have to deal with what lies ahead...I love you sweetheart. My heart and soul are with you every minute of each day. I miss you so much."
With that, the prosecution rests its case.
William Lee "Cody" Neal's defense is short. Like a real lawyer, he calls each witness to the stand, asks each to "state your full name and spell your last name."
The first is Byron Plumley, Neal's spiritual advisor since August, when he called and expressed remorse for his actions. "But I can only say what I've seen and heard."
Neal has "what you call 'surrendered' to God and the judgment of this court," says Plumley, who has attended most of the hearing. "Your defense is rooted in what you believe that God is asking you to do," he tells the defendant, and that includes not cross-examining the government's witnesses or objecting to prosecution evidence or testimony.