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Former Prison Official Found Not Guilty of Lewd Act on a Minor

web posted January 23, 2014

EDGEFIELD A former Unit Manager at the Federal Prison in Edgefield that was arrested in April of 2012 on a charge of lewd act upon a minor under the age of 16 had his day in court on Wednesday. Joseph Fred Neal, 53, of Aiken, withstood a one day trial and took the stand in his own defense, against four witnesses, including the young victim, her friend, and the victim's mother testifying against him. Once the trail concluded the jury was out less than an hour and a half before reaching a verdict of not guilty, a shocking blow to the victim and her mother when it was read.

The testimony from the victim centered around a single incident of what was said to be an ongoing "fondling" of the victim since she was around 12 years old. In the incident in question was a time when Neal and the victim were at a home in Merriwether and he tried to rape the young girl after he became aroused in the swimming pool while they were together.

In addition to the one alleged incident, which took place while the girl was around 12, there were other incidents of him rubbing her buttocks, groping, and other unwanted sexual touching brought out during testimony.

A friend of the victim also testified to seeing similar touching that was inappropriate.

The defense, led by Christopher Lance Sheek, would point out inconsistencies from the victim and the friend on the exact date of the single incident Neal was charged for, the date varied by 1 day.

In a surprise move, the defense actually called the victim's mother, Neal's former wife, to the stand. She recounted numerous inappropriate touching incidents that would result in fights with Neal over his actions. She wept as she testified saying that her daughter tried to tell her what was happening, but she didn't know the extent of the activity, saying she failed her daughter. That was until the daughter came clean about the full extent of the alleged sexual conduct by Neal.

Assistant Solicitor Ervin Maye jumped at the chance to cross examine the mother who brought into evidence ongoing abuse of herself at the hands of Neal, including threats, physical abuse and cursing at her children.

After the state rested its case, Neal took the stand and denied most of the allegations. He did admit, under cross examination, that he did in fact touch the young girl's buttocks, also pinching them, but claimed it was not "sexual". The touching he admitted to included "massaging" the girl's back. He denied physical abuse of his former wife, with the exception of one occasion - that he claimed was self defense.

Two former fellow prison employees testified that they were friends with Neal for years and found him to be "truthful". Solicitor Ervin Maye questioned one of the character witnesses about her close friendship with Neal and brought into evidence that the Federal Prison systems did an internal investigation that resulted in Neal being forced into early retirement following their findings. 

She simply stated that Neal never returned to work after the arrest and the rest was a "personnel matter" and she knew nothing about their findings.

After closing arguments the case was turned over to the jury, made up of 6 men and 6 women. They deliberated one hour and twenty minutes before reaching the not guilty verdict. When it was read in court, the victim and her mother were devastated.

Judge Cothran thanked the jury for their service and dismissed them. Neal was then left free to go.

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