In recent weeks we’ve reported on the trial of Eddie Nealy, who was accused and recently convicted of the 1985 rape and murder of teenager Jody Lynn Wolfe. After deliberating for three hours over a period of two days, the same Fresno jury that convicted Eddie Nealy recently determined that he should be sentenced to death.
Wolfe’s naked body was discovered floating in a southwest Fresno canal in 1985. The skull had been fractured and police believed she had been raped. While investigators at the time took hair samples as well as mouth and genital swabs, the case went cold when no leads pointed to a suspect. Then in 2001, sixteen years after Wolfe’s body was discovered, the hair samples and swabs were sent to the California Department of Justice for DNA testing, which by this time had become common practice in criminal investigations. One of the test results from a swab returned a genetic profile matching that of Nealy.
After the jury announced that Nealy should be put to death — the first such sentence handed down in Fresno in eight years — one of his lawyers said it was what Nealy had been hoping for.
“Eddie was hoping it would be death,” his attorney said. “Eddie fears his life would be in danger if he was thrown in with the general prison population.”
Nealy’s attorney added that his client’s death sentence means his appeals will be more closely scrutinized by appellate lawyers and the courts.
According to his attorneys, Eddie Nealy’s sentence of death was not unexpected. During the death penalty phase of the trial, the defense rested its case without having called a single witness, including Nealy, who could have testified to ask jurors to spare his life. It was a tactical decision, according to Nealy’s attorneys. Had Nealy asked for mercy in sentencing, it could have been perceived as an admission of guilt. Throughout the case Nealy has insisted he is innocent.
When Eddie Nealy is sentenced in October, his attorneys plan to ask Fresno Superior Court Judge Arlan Harrell, before whom the case against Nealy was tried, to reconsider the jury’s death verdict and instead sentence Nealy to life in prison without the possibility of parole.