The man charged with capital murder in the rape, beating and fire death of a woman walking in a Wichita park almost three years ago has been deemed competent to stand trial, ending a lengthy hold on the case.
Cornell McNeal’s ability to understand the nature and severity of the charges against him and assist in his defense were first called into question a year and a half ago when he started refusing to speak to his attorneys and sat mute in court. He fell silent not long after a judge in 2015 bound him over for trial on charges connected to the Nov. 14, 2014, random and deadly attack on 36-year-old Letitia Davis, who was found naked and lying in a ring of fire at Fairmount Park, near Wichita State University that night. She died eight days later.
McNeal, in a police interview after his arrest, denied involvement. Court records show DNA linked him to the attack.
After reviewing findings from two evaluations McNeal received at Larned State Security Hospital and hearing testimony from a doctor there who recommended McNeal be found competent, Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert on Friday decided the 29-year-old is able to go forward with the case. McNeal’s silence is a “selective choice” not to participate, he said, rather than the product of a mental defect. He has been speaking to other inmates and to jail staff.
McNeal’s arraignment is set for June 23. He is expected to plead not guilty to the charges. A jury trial should be scheduled sometime after that.
If convicted of capital murder, McNeal could face the death penalty.