Columbus murder suspect has been in jail nearly two years awaiting indictment

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Tommy McNeal has spent nearly two years in the Muscogee County Jail awaiting trial on murder charges.

This week, McNeal’s case put a spotlight on a serious issue facing the Muscogee County judicial system. 

Lengthy delays before trials leave victims and their families without closure and it costs taxpayers money as the accused sit in jail.

And Tommy McNeal has been in jail 680 days without so much as an indictment.

McNeal appeared in front of Superior Court Judge Gil McBride on Tuesday asking for a reduction in his more than $200,000 bond.

He is accused of shooting to death his friend Nancy Johnson early on New Year’s Day 2018. He also shot Johnson’s daughter. Johnson’s daughter argued against a lower bond on Tuesday.

What came out during that hearing was four assistant district attorneys have handled McNeal’s prosecution. That was a reason given for the delay by Chief Assistant DA Alonza Whitaker.

McBride appeared agitated. Whitaker asked for 60 days to get the indictment. The judge gave him until December 10.

This is not the way the system should work, McNeal’s attorney Jennifer Curry told the court.

“He wanted to send a message, I think, to the DA’s office,” Curry said. “As he said, a delay in justice is no justice at all. So, we can not have individuals just sitting in the jail. As I argued, the jail for misdemeanor crimes, crimes of low or no moral turpitude. Sixty days to serve. 120 days to serve or someone who’s awaiting bond. But not for individuals to sit for two, three, and four years awaiting an indictment. A lot of individuals say they must have done something wrong, they need to be off the streets.”

The delays bog down the judicial system, Curry said.

“They can’t even enter a guilty plea unless there is an indictment,” she said. “So, the taxpayers in this county are housing, feeding clothing, medical expenses are extremely high at the jail. And the taxpayers are footing that bill because the individuals can’t even enter a guilty plea to go into the prison system.”

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