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Defendant claims he killed roommate in self-defense after male love triangle went awry

Left to right Jeffrey Neal, Delano Wingfield, and Leon Young. (Photos courtesy of US Attorney)

They were 21, 22, and 23 years old at the time, "the best of friends" since 9th grade at McKinley Tech High School. They shared a house in the 1800 block of 8th, NW. They were into skateboarding, ninja swords, anime, and video games.

Then one day in June 2014, the nude body of 22-year-old Leon Young was found in the attic. Days later, the nude remains of 23-year-old Delano Wingfield were found buried in the backyard. Forensics later determined that both died from hammer blows to the head.

Jeffery Neal, who was 21 at the time but is 24 now, is on trial before Chief Judge Robert Morin at DC Superior Court, charged with double murder. For prosecutors it's pretty much an open and shut case. They believe the evidence proves Neal was the murderer.

While Neal admits he killed Young, he and his attorney, Kevin McCants, say it was done out of self-defense. Neal claims that Young, who had allegedly stabbed him once before in a rage with a K-bar knife, came at him with a knife a second time, moments after confessing he'd killed Wingfield.

Why? McCants argues it was the result of a love triangle between the three men: Young, who had a sexual relationship with Neal, was jealous that Neal also had a sexual relationship with Wingfield. So he killed Wingfield and was trying to kill Neal, too, but lost the fight, the defense argues.

Since the trial began July 5, a parade of police, former housemates, relatives, and friends have taken the stand. Prosecutors unveiled an elaborate virtual reality video program that lets courtroom observers look around inside the house. But the most significant video was when DC Police taped Neal after he turned himself in to them, confessing he killed Young and stuffed his body in the attic.

The decision to come forward wasn't instantaneous. Neal told police at first he panicked. He took Young's car and ATM card (he knew the pin) and drove to Florida trying to get away. He said after he'd used up the 100 or so dollars on the ATM card, he realized running was pointless. He said he called his mother who sent him funds to return to DC by bus. He left Young's car in Florida, which police later retrieved. He said he didn't have a driver's license.

Neal was very talkative on the video, even after police pointedly read him his Miranda rights. Neal also asked police questions about the difference between manslaughter and murder. Police let him go home after the first interview. They arrested Neal, the next day, after he told them he'd been advised not to talk without a lawyer present.

Before he clammed up on the video, Neal told police he saw Young standing in his room, naked, with a knife in his hand. He said Young told him that he'd killed Wingfield and then turned toward him with the knife. Neal said they fought around Young's room, until he managed to get hold of a hammer and started hitting Young. In the video interrogation, he told police he hit Young in the head a couple of times. Forensics later determined that was actually 28 times.

The last witness, as of this writing, who appeared Thursday morning, was Sy Hawa, who testified he used to be a housemate with the trio. They called themselves the "wolf pack," but because he couldn't afford the rent, he moved back home. Hawa said Neal and Young frequently had arguments over matters like, keeping the house clean or bills, and sometimes the utilities were shut off temporarily for nonpayment.

The house was owned by Neal's family. According to testimony, the housemates worked at food establishments, PotBelly and Nando's Peri Peri Chicken. Neal's family at one point kicked Wingfield out of the house when they learn he was letting his two recently homeless brothers stay in his room.

Hawa said he was still living in the house when the Neal and Young got into the first fight involving the K-bar knife. Hawa said at some point during an argument, Young just turned and walked to his room with Neal following. He said Young grabbed the knife and pointed it a Neal, who started wrestling with him over the knife. He said eventually Neal disarmed Young and pummeled him with his fists for five to 10 minutes with Young begging Hawa to help him. Hawa said he didn't want to help because was angry with Young too. He had heard Young had been sleeping with his girlfriend.

Hawa said he suspected Young was using PCP, because a number of times they had to take him to the "psych ward" at hospitals. He testified that once, while a still housemate, he came home and realized that Young and Neal were having sex inside Young's room. They slammed the door shut, he said, when he tried to enter.

Hawa said, angered he left the house for an hour or two and returned to find Young, "butterball naked," in Neal's room, flailing around out of control with Neal crying, trying to hold him down. He said he thought it was some kind of PCP episode.

When defense attorneys questioned Hawa about their love triangle theory, he said in May of 2014 he had noticed that Neal and Young's relationship was strained, he believed Young never got over being beaten after the knife incident. He said at the same time, it seemed Neal and Wingfield had grown closer.

The trial resumes on Monday.

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