GUILTY PLEA MADE IN '76 INFANT DEATH
A former Tazewell County woman accused of shaking her 13-month-old adopted daughter to death in 1976 pleaded guilty Thursday to involuntary manslaughter.
In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dropped a murder indictment against Victoria Neal, which could have sent her to prison for a minimum of 14 years.
When she is sentenced Jan. 12, she could get probation or a maximum five-year prison sentence, according to Bill Ogolin, Tazewell County assistant state's attorney.
He said the murder charge was reduced because a murder conviction in a similar case was overturned on appeal recently in Peoria County.
The Neal investigation languished for many years but was reopened last fall when Victoria Neal, who was living in Irvine, Calif., made incriminating statements to a social worker there.
On Aug. 30, 1976, 2-year-old Danielle Neal, Victoria and her husband, Glen, were staying with friends who lived on Ossami Lake Court, which was unincorpoated at the time but is now part of Morton. Injuries to Danielle were inflicted at the home that day when only the mother and child were there, authorities said.
The girl died Sept. 2 that year at Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, four months after the Neals had taken custody of Danielle from an Oregon-based adoption agency.
Morton police and the Tazewell County Sheriff's Department investigated the death. Reports from those agencies indicated that Victoria Neal claimed a fall caused brain damage that resulted in Danielle's death.
But autopsy reports revealed the injury was not consistent with a fall. The investigation was dubbed inadequate and officials believe the case file was never turned over to the state's attorney's office.
A new investigation began Sept. 2, 1993, days after she reportedly told the social worker that she accidentally caused the death of her adopted child in Morton in 1976. The social worker told Irvine police and they contacted authorities in Tazewell County.
Danille's body was exhumed and police began investigating her activities since the child's death. They found that Victoria Neal adopted another Korean baby but it was taken from her in 1979 after the child was admitted to a Toledo, Ohio, hospital for suspected abuse.
Ogolin said the state's attorney's office agreed to drop the murder charge in exchange for a guilty plea on the involuntary manslaughter charge after the 3rd District Appellate Court overturned the murder conviction of Steven Holmes, who was accused of shaking his daughter, 7-month-old Crystal Holmes, to death in 1991.
"The facts are very similar," Ogolin said. "They couldn't prove the murderer's mental state - knowledge that his actions caused bodily harm and it made it difficult to prove she (Neal) knew it would cause bodily harm or death."