By Nancy Drury Duncan –
A jury of nine women and three men found Jonathan Cornelius McNeal, 37, of Eastville, guilty of five counts of felony sex offenses against his daughter. His crimes began in 2012 when she was 7 years old and continued until 2018 when she was 13.
In her opening statement, Commonwealth’s Attorney Beverly Leatherbury told of the abuse suffered by the child over the years and told how the crimes finally came to light. She said the child was born when her mother was only 17. The mother and McNeal never married.
The little girl moved around to different family members living in several homes, including a period of time when she and three stepsiblings lived with both McNeal and her mother’s then-husband. The victim’s mother was working in Virginia Beach and was seldom at home, she said.
Her mother testified she and McNeal remained friendly over the years. “Any time I needed him, I could call him,” she said. “He was the only person who was a constant in my life.”
Testimony was that McNeal drank heavily and used marijuana and other drugs during that time and was abusive to the children. His crimes were revealed when the girl, then 15 years old, broke down in tears and told her best friend what her father had been doing to her for as long as she could remember.
Her friend told her to tell her mother, so they called the mother, but the victim was unable to speak. She instead handed the phone to her friend and asked the friend to tell her mother what she had just told her. After her mother heard the story, the girl told her aunt and her grandmother. She said her grandmother told her that her father would be sent away for a long time if she went to the police. The following day she did go to the police.
The girl, now 16, testified on closed circuit television. She answered questions and spoke carefully, deliberately, and in detail of the incidents she could recall, beginning on a hot night the summer after first grade when she was seven.
The sexual abuse continued over the years, she said.
After contacting the police, the girl was taken to Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters. Jennifer Howe, lead forensic specialist, testified that delayed disclosure of abuse by a family member was “extremely common” due to embarrassment and fear.
Defense attorney Carl Bundick argued the dates of the incidents of sexual abuse were not specific. “We are unable to say the acts occurred at a particular time,” he said. He put McNeal’s family members who lived in the various homes with the girl over the years on the witness stand. Each said they saw nothing out of the ordinary and said McNeal had no opportunity to do the things the girl described.
McNeal took the witness stand in his own defense. He denied ever doing anything inappropriate with his daughter. “It never happened,” he said. He said he had never once been alone with his daughter. When asked by Leatherbury why the girl might make this up, he said his daughter got mad at him in August 2020 because he wouldn’t take her to Cape Charles to buy her a milkshake or help her move her things.
“Everything I remember was the truth,” the girl said quietly when recalled to testify.
“She is a credible, careful witness, not overstating, saying what she remembers,” Leatherbury said in her closing argument. “He said he has never been alone with his daughter, that she never sat on his lap. What daughter has not sat on her father’s lap?” Leatherbury asked jurors.
After hearing two days of testimony, the jury concluded its deliberations in under an hour. They found McNeal guilty on all charges. Bundick asked that his client be allowed to remain on bond until sentencing. Substitute Judge Glen A. Tyler denied that request and remanded McNeal to jail. He is tentatively set for sentencing on June 13.