Local News

June 1, 2012

Manhunt over

Neal caught in Varnell


Death penalty case?

Neal was taken to Hamilton Medical Center with “environmental injuries (from) trees (and) brush,” said Sheriff Scott Chitwood at a press conference two hours after his capture. Capt. Rick Swiney of the sheriff’s office said Neal was also suffering from dehydration when arrested and whether or not he would stay at the hospital overnight was an “hour by hour” determination. He added that officers were posted at the hospital.

More than a dozen law enforcement and judicial agencies converged on Varnell by late Wednesday afternoon, with as many as 200 officers searching the woods and providing security near the intersection of Highways 2 and 201, said Daniel Sims, special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation office in Calhoun.

“He looked like he had sustained injuries that you would see from someone who was outdoors for a prolonged period of time,” Sims said of Neal’s appearance. “I don’t know how many days he was out in the elements, but he was out long enough to affect his entire body.”

Chitwood said he was “very proud” that Neal was in custody and noted the tip from a “passerby” led to officers from the Varnell and Cohutta police departments, and the sheriff’s office, converging behind the Dollar General store, where a command post had been set up Wednesday afternoon. Law enforcement was “maintaining a presence” in Varnell on Thursday and responded quickly to the tip, he said.

“The investigation doesn’t lend me to answer at this point whether there was a second individual that actually helped him in his fugitive status ... of course, we haven’t had an opportunity to interview Mr. Neal yet,” Sims said.

District Attorney Bert Poston, who has met with detectives in the past week and was also at the command post in Varnell on Wednesday, was asked on Thursday if this could be a death penalty case.

“That is a question that is way too early to ask or discuss,” he replied. “Once we’ve got a completed report from the sheriff and GBI, and sit down with the victim’s family and all that, we can start talking about that — to determine, one, if it qualifies legally and, secondly, if it would be appropriate or not. It’s not something we would want to speculate on until we get to that point in the process.”

Poston was asked what some of the criteria are in asking for the death penalty.

“There are certain statutorily set aggravating circumstances that have to be present for a case to qualify for the death penalty,” he explained. “One of those is when a murder takes place during the course of another capital felony. So any double murder potentially qualifies under that theory. I really wouldn’t want to say much more beyond that. We’ll have to sit down and look at the full investigative file. It’s just too early to have that discussion.”

Agencies involved in the search for Neal:

• Catoosa County Sheriff’s Office

• Cohutta Police Department

• Conasauga Judicial Circuit

• Dalton Police Department

• Georgia Bureau of Investigation

• Georgia State Patrol (and GSP air/helicopter)

• Gordon County Sheriff’s Office

• Hayes Correctional Facility/Georgia Department of Corrections (K-9 unit)

• Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit

• Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Drug Task Force

• Murray County Sheriff’s Office

• Varnell Police Department

• Walker County Sheriff’s Office

• Whitfield County Emergency Services

• Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office

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