Mendy Neal reaches plea deal in trial of husband's fatal fire. Here's what happened.




  • In US
  • 2022-05-19 23:10:17Z
  • By The Tennessean
Inside courtroom of State of Tennessee vs.
Inside courtroom of State of Tennessee vs.  

Almost a decade after many Dickson County residents were shocked to hear about a local woman being charged in the fiery death of her husband, a plea deal was reached after three days of trial.

Mendy Neal, 41, pled guilty Thursday morning to voluntary manslaughter "without admission of guilt" and will serve up to four years in prison. Neal was facing charge of first-degree murder, felony murder and aggravated arson charges in the death of her husband Matt Neal, 50, after he was found dead from the fire, according to investigators.

Neal entered the plea in Dickson County Circuit Court the day after the jury heard from Neal's former friend January Shelton - who is facing multiple charges of false prescriptions, also from 10 years ago - as well as Neal's interview with Detective Chris Stockman.

District Attorney Ray Crouch said Matt Neal's family was in agreement with the plea deal.

"We do believe it's in everybody's best interests to dispose of (the trial) this way," said Neal's attorney, Olin Baker.

Matt Neal
Matt Neal  

'She tells me she had intentionally set the fire'

Shelton testified that she befriended Neal and Matt while their daughters were both in cheerleading. Shelton said Neal told her she wanted to leave Matt in the months leading up to the fire and that he was abusive - though Shelton testified she never saw signs of abuse.

The night before the fire, in July 2012, Shelton said Neal called and asked her to come to their log home in Charlotte. The Neal's children were not home.

"Matt was in his chair. He looked pretty intoxicated. She was frustrated with him, wanted to give him his medicine and he wasn't taking it," said Shelton, adding that she saw Matt drinking whiskey. "She was trying to get me to help her give it to him, and I wouldn't."

Shelton said she "didn't know what to think," went home, fell asleep and woke up around 6 a.m. with "several missed calls and texts" from Mendy Neal.

After the fire, Neal and her daughters stayed at Shelton's home.

Months later, during Thanksgiving week that same year, Shelton said Neal wanted to confide something in her.

"That's when she tells me she had intentionally set the fire, and she had knocked over a lantern on the back deck to make it look like the wind blew it over. She left Matt in the house," Shelton said. "I told her we had to go our separate ways and I was leaving for Jordan and she needed to be gone when I get home."

During cross examination, defense attorney Lee Spratt questioned inconsistencies in Shelton's interviews with investigators in early 2013 and in 2015. Spratt noted Shelton said she "didn't want to go to jail" in the February 2013 interview and also told detectives Neal had confessed to starting the fire. Spratt questioned whether Shelton was seeking leniency for the charges she faced for allegedly making over 100 false prescriptions.

An investigator walks away from the charred foundation of Matt and Mendy Neal
An investigator walks away from the charred foundation of Matt and Mendy Neal's Loggins Road home hours after the July 11, 2012 fire.  

Night of the fire

Dickson County Fire and Rescue Chief Hawk Wingate and Shannon Yates with the Charlotte Volunteer Fire Department were among the first to arrive at the scene of the log cabin home fire in Charlotte.

Wingate entered the home, already in flames, using a thermal imaging camera but couldn't make out anyone. Next, Wingate testified he was down on his hands and knees, and began sweeping with his left hand for Matt Neal while moving forward.

"I had to be really, really close to see it was a person because visibility was really low," Wingate said.

Wingate confirmed it was a person and told the other crew with the hose to come in and push back the fire with water spray. Yates entered the home at that time.

One crew ran out of water and another crew came in while Wingate and Yates tried to create a harness to drag Matt Neal out.

"I looked up and the room went from really dark to really bright. There was fire rolling out of the upstairs room and coming down the wall behind us," said Wingate, who was emotional during the testimony.

Wingate said he saw a heavy beam overhead that started "sagging." That's when the crew had to back out, Wingate said.

"We couldn't pull him out," he said.

"He had injuries that were not sustainable with life," Wingate said. "All of his clothes were burnt off his backside. His skin was already all burnt."

Cat awakening, pre-911 calls

The jury listened to Neal's July 12, 2012 interview with Stockman, who is with the Dickson County Sheriff's Office.

Neal said Matt was drinking whiskey the night of the fire and took his "bedtime" pills. Neal said she drank a couple glasses of wine and then went to bed, leaving Matt to fall asleep on the chair, as she said he often did. They had been sitting on the back porch at one point and had lit lanterns, she said. Neal told detectives Matt was supposed to have put out the lantern flame but didn't.

Neal said she was awakened by one of their cats pawing at her face around 2 a.m.

She said she ran downstairs, shook Matt and stated he made a comment indicating he would be right out. Neal said she ran outside to call 911 and after a few moments realized Matt was not there. The 911 operators, she said, told her not to go back in for Matt.

Neal didn't mention any other calls or injuries to Stockman.

In an interview with insurance agents later in 2012, a transcript read to the jury showed that Neal told agents she had torn cartilage in her ribs.

Assistant District Attorney Dani Bryson reviewed Neal's phone call and text records on July 11 2012 at the time of the fire. Records show that between 1:32 a.m. and 1:43 a.m. Neal called and texted Shelton multiple times. Then, at 2:18 a.m. she placed the call to 911.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Mendy Neal reaches plea deal in husband's fatal fire. How it happened.

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