Rape trial begins for Fresno man who already faces death sentence

Eddie Ricky Nealy
Eddie Ricky Nealy

Nearly two years after a jury said Eddie Ricky Nealy should be executed for the 1985 rape and killing of a Fresno teen, a different jury began hearing evidence Monday in Fresno County Superior Court to determine whether he kidnapped, raped and attempted to murder a Riverdale woman in 2001.

In September 2013, Nealy, now 58, was convicted of rape and the first-degree murder of Jody Lynn Wolfe, 14, whose nude body was discovered floating face up in a southwest Fresno canal on Aug. 15, 1985. An autopsy revealed she died of blunt-force trauma to the back of her head and had been dead at least two days.

During the trial back then, prosecutor Steven Wright told the jury that DNA evidence linked Nealy to Jody’s rape and murder.

Monday, Wright was back in the courtroom, telling a different jury that DNA evidence also links Nealy to the September 2001 kidnap, rape and attempted murder of a woman who was only identified in court as Martha H. The prosecutor said Martha H., then 32, would be dead, too, but she fought back and escaped Nealy’s clutches.

Judge Arlan Harrell has put Nealy’s death sentence on hold until after the rape trial of Martha H.

In opening statements Monday, jurors weren’t told of Nealy’s conviction in the killing of Wolfe or how he was suspected of killing Mary Charlotte Barnett, whose nude body was discovered in a southwest Fresno field in July 1988. But Wright did tell the jury that Nealy has two prior rape convictions from 1990.

According to Wright, Martha H. had left a party in Riverdale during the early hours of Sept. 20, 2001. While walking to her sister’s home, Martha H. was attacked by Nealy, Wright said.

He sneaked up from behind Martha H., grabbed her and put a knife to her throat, Wright told the jury. Nealy then dragged Martha H. to a field and sexually assaulted her behind bales of hay, the prosecutor said.

“He violated her over and over and over,” Wright said. Once Nealy was done sexually assaulting her, he wrapped his hands around her neck until she couldn’t breathe. Martha H., however, grabbed some dirt and threw it in Nealy’s face. She fought with him and escaped, Wright told the jury.

Naked, Martha H. ran to a nearby mini-market and screamed for help. The owner gave Martha H. a T-shirt and called authorities.

Wright said Martha H. was taken to a hospital and given a sexual assault exam. Semen on her body was later sent to a DNA laboratory for analysis. Testing showed that the DNA from the semen matched Nealy’s DNA profile, Wright told the jury.

Nealy’s attorneys, Eric Green and Serita Rios, waived their opening statement until after Wright presents his evidence.

When Jody’s body was discovered, Fresno police detectives had few leads. They collected hair samples and swabbed her mouth and genital area. But the case went cold, and the evidence sat in the Fresno Police Department’s property room for more than a decade.

Then around 2001, the relatively new crime-fighting tool called DNA testing gave police hope. The evidence was sent to the Department of Justice, and semen from Jody’s body was found on one of the swabs. A few years later, further testing led to a DNA match of Jody’s killer – Nealy, who was in prison on a drug charge when investigators came to talk to him about her murder.

In 2007, Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer officially announced at a news conference that Nealy’s DNA linked him to Jody’s murder. Nealy, who has been in the Fresno County Jail since April 2007, was later linked to the alleged kidnap, sexual assault and attempted murder of Martha H.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts