GRAHAM — It's unusual for criminal defendants to represent themselves, and even more unusual for one of them to also testify in his own defense, but that's what Christopher Lee Neal did Monday, June 24, in Alamance County Superior Court.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have something I prepared," Neal said before reading a statement of his version of the events of June 13, 2017.
Neal, 44, is on trial for attempted first-degree murder, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, discharging a weapon into an occupied vehicle, and possession of a firearm by a felon, in the near-miss shooting of a former Rockingham County social worker in 2017.
Neal described a lot of the incidents that other witnesses and evidence already brought out, but without a lot of the behavior other witnesses said was frightening and led to his children being taken from the home. The major diversion from previous testimony was that his then girlfriend, Latanya Michelle Whetsell, took his car that night, followed Glover to Burlington and shot at her alone. Whetsell testified that Neal was driving the car while she shot at Glover. He is charged as an accessory, and she faces 10 years in prison after pleading guilty.
Glover testified early in the trail that she called Whetsell to get an address in Reidsville to check on Neal and Whetsell's young children after their newborn daughter's umbilical cord tested positive for marijuana. Whetsell passed the phone to Neal, who cursed at Glover and fellow social worker Emily Pulliam and said he would go to their supervisor.
Neal said he thought it was a prank call, "based on the laughter I heard," and that the woman on the other end abruptly threatened to take the children.
"I told her not to play on the phone," Neal testified.
His father, who had already spoken to the women, gave him a letter they left asking for a meeting the next morning. Neal said he headed to the Rockingham County Social Services office to find out if there was a case and saw a car like the one his father described and decided to get a picture of who was in it.
Glover and Pulliam testified that Neal's blue BMW SUV chased them on the highway at 90 miles per hour, into town and then into a Bojangles parking lot while they called 911 and ultimately fled to an elementary school to wait for help.
"They're making that up," Neal said on cross examination. "They falsified that call."
Neal said he wanted to ask the women if they were looking for him and about the letter and followed them to Bojangles, but left because they "looked nervous" and he didn't want to bother them while they got lunch.
Rockingham County DSS social worker Jan Odum testified that Neal shouted at her across the parking lot and walked up with his fists clenched while she was on her way to lunch at about 12:15 p.m. — the time of the 911 call, Neal said. Neal said he walked up to her and asked if she knew about a case over his kids because he recognized her from when DSS took Whetsell's first three children from her home several years earlier and thought she was a nice person.
Neal had a meeting with DSS Director Melissa Kaneko, another administrator and as sheriff's detective. Kaneko testified it was at 12:48 p.m., that Neal brought up serious domestic violence charges Whetsell had brought against him and dropped earlier that year and that she told him DSS would need to see the children that day. Neal testified that he told Kaneko he was too busy taking care of the children and Whetsell, who was recovering from a caesarian section, and she agreed to do it the next morning, something Kaneko denied.
"I thanked them for being considerate," Neal testified.
Later, Neal testified, Whetsell called him hysterical that social workers and sheriff's deputies had come to the house and "kicked in the door."
"The social workers' intention was to take my children by any means necessary," Neal said.
Glover testified that Whetsell had given them an address late in the afternoon, but she wouldn't go without an escort, for which she had to wait until about 6 p.m. When Whetsell confirmed the information in the domestic-violence protective order she took out against Neal earlier that year, Glover said she was obligated to get the children out of the house. DSS got a judge to phone in a nonsecure custody order to remove the children, which Neal maintains wasn't valid since the judge hadn't signed it himself.
"The document was wholly fraudulent," Neal said.
After another confrontation with deputies and the social workers at 10:30 p.m. outside the DSS office, Neal testified that he went to take care of an aunt with dementia at her house, that Whetsell took the car to go to the store, but never came back.
Assistant District Attorney Rick Champion seemed to get Neal on the defensive a few times asking about inconsistencies like his being at his aunt's house near Reidsville with his cousin between 10:25 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. when he was seen at DSS at 10:30 p.m., and his debit card was used at a Greensboro car wash at 12:35 a.m. Neal also kept changing his story about how incapacitated Whetsell was that day because of her recovery and medication saying at two points she was able to get around on her own and was incapacitate at another time.
Champion also confronted Neal with a threatening statement he made to Glover while she was taking the children.
"I served 20 years in a penitentiary," Neal said. "You've got to put yourself in my shoes."
Neal served time in federal prison on a drug-trafficking conviction.
"Here was the government taking your kids," Champion said. "That made you mad, didn't it?"