The trial of a 24-year-old D.C. man charged with two counts of first-degree murder for allegedly bludgeoning to death two roommates with whom he had sexual relations entered its third week on Wednesday in D.C. Superior Court.
Prosecutors have so far presented to the jury close to 40 witnesses including police, a deputy medical examiner, former roommates, and relatives and friends of the victims in an effort to support their contention that Jeffrey Bernard Neal killed one of his male roommates in a dispute over money and killed the other male roommate because he witnessed the first murder.
Police have said the murders occurred in June of 2014 inside a house at 1846 8th St., N.W. that was owned by Neal’s family and in which Neal resided and charged the roommates rent.
The defense, led by attorney Kevin J. McCants, told the jury in opening arguments that the three men were involved in a gay love triangle and one of the roommates killed the other in a “jealous rage” and then attacked Neal with a knife, according to an account by the Washington Post.
McCants told the jury that Neal fought back in self-defense and struck 22-year-old Leon Young in the head twice with a hammer as Young continued to lunge at him while wielding the knife, the Post reported.
“It’s a relationship where these young guys, very young guys, were gay and, basically, lived together and frequently had sex,” the Post quoted McCants as telling the jury.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Veronica Sanchez and Shana Fulton, the lead prosecutors in the case, have pointed out that an autopsy revealed that Young was struck in the head by an object believed to be a hammer at least 26 times. The two also pointed out that instead of calling police or an ambulance Neal carried Young into the attic of the house and covered his body with an air mattress before driving to Florida in Young’s car.
A police report says two of Neal’s uncles arrived at the house a short time later to do some maintenance work and smelled an odor that prompted them to enter the attic where they discovered Young’s nude body with a plastic bag placed over his head.
The uncles immediately called police, who, along with emergency medical services technicians determined that Young had been dead for at least several days or longer and his body had been decomposing. As part of a standard procedure when a body is found hidden in a residence police brought in cadaver dogs to search the property.
They soon found the nude body of the third roommate, Delano Wingfield, 23, buried in a shallow grave in the back yard. Similar to Young, an autopsy found that Wingfield had been struck in the head numerous times with an object with a flat rounded head that was also believed to be a hammer.
McCants noted that Neal returned to D.C. from Florida on his own and cooperated with police when asked to give a statement about the murders. The Post reported that McCants told the jury that mutual friends and one former roommate confirmed Neal’s claim that Young had attacked him on a prior occasion, leading Neal to believe he could be dangerous.
A police arrest affidavit says that Neal told homicide detectives that Young told Neal he killed Wingfield shortly before Young attacked Neal with the knife in the house. During the trial McCants told the jury Neal’s actions were aimed at protecting himself.
“This was a fight to the death,” the Post quoted McCants as saying. “Leon had attacked him before, and my client lost it,” the Post quoted him as saying.
Prosecutors have disputed that claim, saying drops of Wingfield’s blood were found on the ceiling of Neal’s bedroom and on a desk. The prosecutors also pointed to the police investigation that found that Young’s blood was spattered around his room and on Neal’s shoes, the Post reported.
Some of the jurors appeared startled on Tuesday afternoon when prosecutors projected graphic photos on a large screen of the two victims’ bodies and skulls taken during the autopsy. The photos were shown during testimony by former Assistant D.C. Medical Examiner Dr. Lois Goslinoski, who participated in the autopsy of the victims.
The photos showed holes in the two victims’ skulls and face caused by what Goslinoski said were blunt force blows from an object that could have been a hammer.
Prosecutors were expected to complete their case on Wednesday, with closing arguments expected to take place on Thursday or early Friday after the defense presents several witnesses.