News 12's Chris Thomas got an exclusive interview with Joe Neal Jr. after his trial was continued on Monday. (WRDW-TV / April 30, 2012)
News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, June 6, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Well-known Augusta attorney Joe Neal Jr. wiped away tears as Judge James Blanchard agreed to a plea deal in a career-damaging rape trial that ended on Wednesday.
"Do you think irreparable damage has been done?" we asked Neal.
"No," he replied. "Because I believe in God, and he loves me. I promise. I serve him every day of my life. I commit sins, and I am forgiven for them."
Neal faced 25 years in jail and walked away with three years probation after being accused of providing alcohol and marijuana to a person under 21 and allegedly raping his 18-year-old babysitter.
"Mr. Neal, there may be a perception in the community that you are getting a pass in this case," said Judge Blanchard. "I assure you and the public that you are not being given a pass. There is just no evidence."
The case drew a long number of possible witnesses, including Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver.
"I have no clue what I'm supposed to bring to the table," said Mayor Copenhaver on our weekly radio segment on 96.3 KISS FM with Fattz and Cher. "It's the Jerry Springer-ization of America."
The jury heard text messages exchanged between Neal and the alleged victim one day after the supposed rape.
The victim called Neal a "sexy daddy," and Neal suggested she become his "sex slave and babysitter."
"Augusta has been my home forever," Neal said. "It's probably not going to be my home in the foreseeable future, but I'll have an office here."
Neal will also have to pay a $3,000 fine and complete 100 hours of community service at a local waste water treatment plant.
"It appears that your moral compass is broken," Blanchard said. "The court is going to require you to perform community service at the either the Richmond County or the Columbia County waste water treatment facility, also known as the sewer plant, in keeping with the conduct in this case."
Neal has been ordered not to contact the alleged victim. His ex-wife, Caroline Neal, is not expected to face trial.
"It's not about getting off easy," said lead Defense Attorney Tom Withers. "It's about what the evidence is. The evidence wasn't evaluated fairly until this trial began."
The prosecution says Neal's attorney would have "demolished" the witness during cross-examination.