Monday, January 13, 2014 11:47 PM
Was fatal shooting murder or self-defense?
Mother says defendant shot armed intruders
By Corey Friedman | Times Online Editor
MIDDLESEX — Two men in black ski masks jabbed a gun barrel in her son’s chest, Felecia McGee said. Now he’s facing a murder charge for taking one of their lives.
McGee contends 29-year-old Jerome Neal shot the men in self-defense when they turned up at his rural Johnston County home to rob him. Neal killed 18-year-old Darrick Hagans and wounded 19-year-old Kwami Jones in the Saturday night shooting, according to sheriff’s deputies.
"I just don’t want my son to be put out like he set out to kill somebody,” McGee said. "They came to his house to rob him and kill him, and it just went the other way.”
Deputies charged Neal with first-degree murder, attempted murder and possession of a firearm by a felon. McGee said the charges are baffling.
"It’s still a shock,” she said Monday afternoon. "I still don’t understand why. My son wouldn’t hurt nobody. He was not the type to start a confrontation. Anybody’s going to protect their home.”
Deputies were called to 431 Barnes Lake Road south of Middlesex around 7:55 p.m. McGee said her son was cooperative and told detectives he’d shot two armed intruders inside his mobile home.
"My son did not run,” she said. "He stood. He talked to the police. He helped them, gave them everything they needed.”
Authorities have said little about the Sunday shooting and have not disclosed a motive. Johnston County sheriff’s spokeswoman Tammy Amaon couldn’t be reached for comment late Monday afternoon.
District Attorney Susan Doyle’s office declined to answer questions. Doyle spokesman James E. Crayton said prosecutors do not comment on pending cases.
‘THEY BUM-RUSHED HIM’
Kieosha Jones said she, Chris Raper and another of Neal’s friends were visiting Neal at his home Saturday afternoon. When Raper went outside, she said two men in ski masks jumped out from beneath the mobile home’s raised wooden porch and accosted him.
"They told him to knock on the door,” Jones said. "They were tussling with him, trying to fight him. Somehow, he got away.”
Raper ran up the street to McGee’s home, which is also on Barnes Lake Road, to warn her that two men were after her son.
"He ran to my house and told me,” McGee recalled. "He said, ‘I promise you I don’t know what’s going on. They’re trying to rob Jerome.’ He said he wouldn’t knock.”
Jones, Neal and another friend were inside the home when they heard thumping on the front door some time later.
"Someone knocked on the door and (Neal) said, ‘Who is it?’ and nobody said nothing,” Jones said.
The door opened and Neal stepped forward. One of the men "put a gun in his chest,” Jones said. She ran from the room.
"It was like they bum-rushed him,” she said. "I ran to this bathroom right here and hid up under the toilet.”
Jones said Neal’s other friend ran out the back door. She didn’t witness the shooting, she said, but feared for Neal’s life as she hid in the bathroom.
"I just didn’t want to walk through and see Jerome on the floor,” she said. "It just happened so fast.”
McGee and Jones don’t know how many gunshots were fired. They weren’t sure whether Hagans and Jones opened fire on Neal or whether they were shot with Neal’s gun or their own.
"He did have a gun,” McGee said. "He had gotten in some trouble and he wasn’t supposed to have one. But he hadn’t been in no trouble for over six years. He was trying to get himself back on track.”
Records show Neal served a six-month prison sentence in 2008 after being convicted of possession with intent to sell marijuana in Johnston County. He served probation on two counts of the same felony marijuana charge in 2005.
Neal has pending Johnston County charges of misdemeanor marijuana possession and driving while license revoked.
Neather Hagans nor Kwami Jones have been to prison, but both had pending criminal charges. Hagans had been accused of cocaine possession and sale, possession of a stolen gun, hit and run and reckless driving in Nash County.
Kwami Jones is charged with aiding and abetting armed robbery, breaking and entering and larceny after breaking and entering in Nash County.
Both men Neal is accused of shooting lived in or near Spring Hope, according to the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office.
"If you didn’t come to his house, he wouldn’t have killed you,” McGee said. "My son was innocent because he was at his home in Johnston County. He didn’t go to Nash County.”
Neal had met at least one of the men at a car show, McGee said, but she didn’t believe they were more than casual acquaintances.
Though she believes the men attacked her son in his home, McGee said she is sorry for the grief and loss that Hagans’ family feels.
"I have pain for my child, but I have pain for the other family,” she said. "They’re getting ready to bury their son. It’s not a win-win situation for either mother.”
McGee drove to Smithfield on Monday for her son’s first appearance in Johnston County District Court. She said Neal looked despondent and sullen.
"His eyes were all baggy,” she said. "I know they’ve been crying. I was trying to hold up, but I couldn’t hold my tears back.”
McGee said the judge denied her son bond. He will remain in the Johnston County Jail in Smithfield until his next scheduled court appearance on Jan. 30.
Selma attorney Bob Denning was appointed to represent Neal, his mother said.
In 2011, North Carolina lawmakers passed a self-defense law based on the castle doctrine, a legal principle holding that residents can use deadly force to protect themselves or others on their property.
The law states that a person is justified in using lethal force if he or she has "a reasonable fear of imminent death or serious bodily harm to himself or herself or another.”
McGee said her son was defending himself and his friends from armed intruders and should be shielded from prosecution under the state’s castle doctrine.
McGee said deputies investigating the shooting were polite and courteous, but didn’t give any indication that he could face a murder charge.
"I asked them, ‘Are y’all going to charge my son?’” McGee recalled. "And they said, ‘We are probably going to charge him for the gun because he is a felon.’”
Neal’s mother said she’d like detectives and prosecutors to explain why they decided to charge him with murder.
"A lot of stuff is just not adding up,” McGee said, "and I don’t think they’re giving my son a fair shake.”
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