By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Randy Canney, the defendant's advisory counsel, stands in the hallway after the verdict. He believes Neal is mentally ill, delusional, and shouldn't have been representing himself. "I don't know if Cody is so wrought with guilt that he felt he had to represent himself. It may be part of his mental illness." The day before the death-penalty trial, Canney had attempted one last time to raise the issue of competency. He'd had Neal's sister Sharon, the only sibling still talking to him, call in her testimony. Her brother "goes from being rational to incoherent in the same conversation," she'd told the judge, and he'd claimed he was "possessed." But Woodford had rejected Canney's argument, and the trial had gone forward with Neal representing himself.
A few minutes after court is adjourned, the victims' families meet with the media. They thank the prosecutors and investigators "for their commitment and sensitivity" and express their feelings over the outcome.
"This brings some closure, but it does not bring back my mom, Angela or Rebecca," Holly Walters says.
"This is not going to be over for us for a very, very long time," adds Wayne Fite, Angela's father.
They all plan to attend Neal's execution. "To the end," says Wayne. "To the end," Holly repeats.
William Cody Neal has a way of making even his victims' survivors feel guilty. Some of them will have to live with that heartache, as well as their loss.
In the months before her murder, Wayne had pushed his daughter away because she would not get out of an abusive relationship with Mike Kelly. And then she found much worse: Cody Neal.
Mike Kelly, who had testified that he had never loved anyone as much as Angie, will also have to look at himself and ask why Angie had to look for love and safety in the arms of another man.
Holly Walters knows she will spend the rest of her life wishing she had looked harder into Neal's life. But her mother was very selective about the men she got involved with -- and she was so happy.
"My mother was an extremely trusting person who gave a lot of herself in relationships and expected a lot in return," Holly says later. "I think she was tired of being alone, and he offered her the moon. He had a charisma she found irresistible.
"But it was never about the money...the really outrageous numbers he was throwing out only happened in that last week. For none of these women was it about the money. It was everything to do with his presence and the way he communicated."
For her, the hardest part of the trial was listening to Neal on the tape, describing how "cute and studious" her mom looked sitting on the chair. "Until he bashed her head in. Most people don't equate 'cute and studious' with wanting to murder somebody."
While many of the victims' family members and even the victim's advocates considered Holly Walters the rock -- strong, upbeat and always looking out for everybody else -- she says she got her strength from Suzanne. The night before she was to testify, she couldn't get through the letter she had to read. But on the witness stand, Holly thought of Suzanne's courageous testimony -- what she'd survived in order to be there -- and got the strength to go on.
She had lived for the day when she could confront Neal "and verbalize what he had taken from me," Holly says now. "I wanted to look him in the eyes and try to understand the person behind them. I had found it difficult to think that he looked at my mom with those same eyes when she felt so much love for him."
Like many other family members and friends of the victims, Holly is adamant about getting one point across: Neal picked intelligent, attractive women for his targets, and he was a master at finding out where they were vulnerable.
"These women had dreams and hopes," she says. "He offered them a glimpse of a future."
Canney, a well-respected attorney on both sides of the aisle, says he's troubled that the judges weren't "painted a fuller picture of Cody's life." Had he been allowed to take a more active role, he would have brought in "people who have good things to say about him...It's not like for the past three or four years he's been an absolute con. He can be a nice guy. He was a good businessman. He's a very engaging man.
"Why, when he was 42 years old, did he suddenly do this horrible thing?" Canney wonders. "While he may not have been the most law-abiding citizen, he had no criminal record. In looking for answers, you have to hope that there's some good in everybody, an explanation for the bad...I don't believe in abject evil. I think there's a reason."
Bachmeyer, who had been troubled by Neal-inspired nightmares, has been left emotionally "flat" by the trial, she says. "There's no joy...Maybe a sense of satisfaction that the families got justice, but I can't say I'm happy. That's not the right word."