Final evidence in Fresno death penalty case

August 26, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
A jury is about to decide Fresno County's first death penalty trial in five years. Eddie Nealy is standing trial for a cold case murder from 1985. DNA evidence got him arrested, but not until almost twenty years later. After three weeks of trial, the case came full circle Monday.

The focus was back on the DNA found on 14-year-old Jody Wolfe, and a disagreement over whether it proves Eddie Nealy is a rapist and a murderer. Girl's jeans, a black shirt, a pair of shoes, Jody Wolfe's possessions left on a Fresno canal bank in 1985, never helped investigators find a suspect in her murder.

Traditional detective work led nowhere, but genetic material collected from her body eventually did. While Wolfe remains 14 forever, DNA technology matured, and testing connected Wolfe to Eddie Nealy in 2004.

A second examination this month made an even stronger case that Nealy left his DNA on Wolfe's body.

"The probability that a random, unrelated individual would by chance possess this profile is estimate to be one in 150 billion for African Americans," said Margaret Aceves of the California Department of Justice.

Prosecutors say the DNA is evidence that Nealy raped and killed Wolfe. But evidence of her violent end is scarce. Coroners said she was hit over the head by something, but they don't know what. Police found an axe handle near the canal bank, but can't connect it to Nealy. And defense attorneys say, even if the DNA evidence somehow connects Nealy to Wolfe, it doesn't mean he committed any crime.

"The only thing that information proves is that at some point in time, Mr. Nealy may have had sex with the victim that's identified in the vaginal swab. Is that correct?" attorney Serita Rios asked Aceves.

"That's correct," Aceves said.

"It does not prove that Mr. Nealy killed Ms. Wolfe, is that right?" Rios asked.

"That's correct," Aceves answered.

Nealy already has two rape convictions and was in prison when he was charged with this murder. He could face the death penalty if the jury finds him guilty. Attorneys will give closing arguments in the case Tuesday.


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