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Shades of Black

Defense attorneys fight to save their clients by comparing them to current residents of death row.

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 come as a surprise. If there was one thing that stood out about the murders, beyond their horrific brutality, it was the incredible, multilayered web of lies and details that Neal had spun to snare his victims.

One of Tingle's greatest fears was that Neal would be underestimated. By the courts. By his jailers. Even by the prosecutors. So Tingle had decided to consider anything that came out of Neal's mouth, no matter how seemingly innocent, as an attempt to manipulate them.

In their dealings, Neal had always been courteous and respectful ...ingratiatingly so. It made Tingle's skin crawl to hear the defendant talk as though they were on the same team. But then, he'd seen for himself what Neal had done: He'd walked through the townhouse while the bodies were still there. He'd prosecuted more than a dozen murder cases, all with their own crime scenes, but none came close to Neal's carnage. To even look at Neal without revulsion, in his mind Tingle had to separate the ax murderer from the jailhouse lawyer.

 
Michael Hogue
 
Jacine Gielinski, a star athlete at Littleton High School, was murdered at age 22 by George Woldt and Lucas Salmon.
Jacine Gielinski, a star athlete at Littleton High School, was murdered at age 22 by George Woldt and Lucas Salmon.

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Read more Westword coverage of the Colorado Death Penalty in The Penalty Zone

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The 41-year-old Bachmeyer had spent the past couple of years working domestic-violence cases. Her first impression of Neal was that he had an almost desperate need to be liked. But then she felt his behavior toward her go beyond friendliness to flirting, testing how she would respond as a woman. Her response was that he gave her the creeps. It bothered her that to the public, Neal's victims might appear gullible, even witless for believing his outlandish stories and going off to slaughter like sheep. She knew that the victims were intelligent, caring women. They hadn't engaged in behavior that put them at risk: They didn't hang out with gangs, they weren't prostitutes or drug addicts, they didn't go out with strangers. Their only fault was that they were too trusting.

And in court this morning, she and Tingle had noticed something different about Neal: The killer and rapist was wearing a new gold wedding band. A few days before the trial, a local jeweler had alerted Tingle that Neal was trying to buy a set of rings; apparently he was going to marry his new girlfriend, a "trust-fund baby" in Phoenix who sent him money regularly and had even been up to visit him in jail.

Incredible: Even behind bars, Neal was still able to cast his spells. Ted Bundy, the serial killer executed in 1989 whose exploits were favored reading material for Neal, had married while on death row -- but at least that woman had been able to convince herself that her groom was innocent. With Neal's confession, no such fantasy was possible. Tingle wondered if the "wedding" was just another ploy to manipulate the judges, as well as a way to continue to control some poor woman.

In the final analysis, Tingle believed that Neal's demand to represent himself was a control issue. He simply had to be in control of everything. In control of the women. In control of their money, their emotions, their lives. He'd tied his rape victim to a bed to control her. And now he was exercising the ultimate control -- over the decision of whether he lived or died.

After Tingle finished his opening statement, Neal stood and shuffled over to the lectern. The freedom to move across the courtroom was part of a deal he'd worked out in order to be his own lawyer, but the deputies came a couple of steps closer, just in case. Before he could start speaking, Woodford issued a warning: While opening statements were not considered evidence in any trial, just an outline of what each side intended to present, whatever Neal said could be used against him. He'd retained his right to remain silent, the judge reminded him.

Neal adjusted the microphone. It was "September 20, 1999, Monday morning, a day that's much more to some, much less to others," he said. It was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a "special day" for "reconciliation, forgiveness...peace."

From the victims' side of the courtroom came angry murmurs, but Neal continued. "This is one of the most horrendous things I ever heard of," he said of his own crimes. "How could someone do what I have done? I wish I could say I was innocent. There is no excuse for this crime. I can't wash my hands enough for this."

He was guilty as charged. "Mr. Tingle is an honorable man, and he speaks the truth," Neal said. "He has been honest with me and did not exaggerate anything. I would not change what he said, except maybe to fill in some blanks." And by doing so, he added, he would be the voice for "three wonderful, trusting, beautiful women."

He had been molested as a child, Neal said, an excuse that led him to point the blame at others while he "served only Satan." But now he was a changed man, a man who'd recently reaffirmed his "belief in the Lord, my God." He wanted to live so that he could "zealously" serve Jesus in prison.

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