Crime

Mistrial in rape trial of Fresno man already headed to death row

Eddie Ricky Nealy’s attorney Eric Green talks to reporters after his client was found guilty in Fresno County Superior Court in 2013 in the rape and killing of 14-year old Jody Wolfe.
Eddie Ricky Nealy’s attorney Eric Green talks to reporters after his client was found guilty in Fresno County Superior Court in 2013 in the rape and killing of 14-year old Jody Wolfe. ezamora@fresnobee.com

A mistrial was declared Monday in the rape trial of Eddie Ricky Nealy, who already is facing a death sentence for the 1985 rape and killing of a Fresno teen.

Nealy, 58, was on trial in Fresno County Superior Court, accused of kidnapping, raping and attempting to murder a Riverdale woman in 2001.

After two days of deliberations, a jury told Judge Arlan Harrell that they were deadlocked. Because jurors could not reach a unanimous decision, prosecutor Steven Wright has the option of retrying Nealy. He told Harrell he needed two weeks to make the decision.

Outside court, one of Nealy’s attorneys said it would be a waste of taxpayers’ money to retry Nealy.

“For God sakes, he’s already facing a death sentence,” Fresno defense lawyer Eric Green said.

More importantly, Green said, jurors told him after the mistrial was declared that they were deadlocked 6-6 on the rape charge, but leaning toward not guilty on the other charges.

Nealy has been in the Fresno County Jail since April 2007, when Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer announced at a news conference that Nealy’s DNA linked him to Jody Lynn Wolfe’s murder.

Because of legal issues and conflicting schedules among lawyers, six years would pass before Wright could a tell a jury about the DNA evidence.

In September 2013, Nealy was convicted of rape and the first-degree murder of Jody, 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.

In convicting Nealy, the jury imposed a death sentence. But Harrell put the death sentence on hold until after Nealy stood trial for the alleged crimes against a Riverdale woman only identified in court as Martha H.

In opening statements last week, Wright told a different jury that DNA evidence linked Nealy to the alleged September 2001 crimes against Martha H., then 32 years old. Martha H. would be dead, too, but she fought back and escaped Nealy, Wright said.

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.

On the witness stand, Martha H. testified that Nealy, who also attended the party, sneaked up behind her and put a knife to her throat. She told jurors Nealy then dragged her by her hair to a field, tore off her clothes, and sexually assaulted her behind bales of hay for three hours.

Martha H. said Nealy also nearly choked her to death. She said she escaped by throwing dirt in his face. Naked, Martha H. said she ran to a nearby mini-market and screamed for help. The owner gave Martha H. a T-shirt and called authorities.

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.

But in closing arguments last week, Nealy’s other attorney, Serita Rios, picked apart Martha H.’s account.

Martha H. testified that she was dragged on her knees to a field where she was raped. But the hospital exam showed no injuries to Martha H.’s knees, Rios told the jury. Martha H. also said Nealy tore off her clothing. But her clothing that was collected by law enforcement showed no signs of being ripped, Green said.

In addition, Rios pointed out that a medical staffer said the marking on Martha H.’s neck could have been a hickey.

Rios also questioned why Martha H. had gone to the market for help when her sister’s home was nearby.

Monday, Green said Martha H.’s account of being assaulted for three hours was unbelievable. “We have always said the sex between her and Nealy was consensual,” Green said.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

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