Evidence collected by forensic nurses at Via Christi Hospital St. Francis helped lead to an arrest in connection with the brutal attack on a woman in Fairmount Park last week, interim Police Chief Nelson Mosley said Thursday.
Police arrested Cornell Antoine McNeal, 26, shortly after 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the 2700 block of North Battin and booked him into the Sedgwick County Jail shortly before 12:30 a.m. Thursday on suspicion of rape and attempted first-degree murder, documents show.
Investigators suspect him of raping, beating and setting on fire a 36-year-old woman who was walking in the park at about 11 p.m. last Friday. She remains in critical condition at Via Christi.
“This is a horrendous case,” Mosley said.
He said evidence collected by the nurses linked McNeal to the crime.
“We believe the suspect and victim had a random encounter at the park” Friday night, Mosley said.
The assault occurred a short time later. A statement issued by police said “the attack appears to be random and that the victim and suspect do not know each other.”
Investigators have not yet been able to interview the victim, Mosley said.
The park where the attack occurred is just south of Wichita State University’s main campus, but officials have said the victim is not a student at WSU.
Nevertheless, detectives will confer with WSU police officials to see whether McNeal is connected to any recent incidents on or next to the campus, Lt. James Espinoza said. He said police are not looking for any other suspects in the case.
“According to university records, the alleged perpetrator of the crime has never been a student or employee at WSU,” a statement released by the university said.
“The Wichita State University community is encouraged that the arrest announced today may represent the first step toward a resolution of the tragic crime discovered in Fairmount Park last weekend. Our thoughts remain with the victim and her loved ones, who still face a long period of recovery.”
McNeal does have a link to WSU, however: Sedgwick County District Court records show he was charged with stealing $200 in cash from the Rhatigan Student Center on Nov. 21, 2009. In a financial affidavit from that case, he reported he had been unemployed for 15 months.
McNeal pleaded guilty to criminal trespass and was placed on six months of probation. He later violated his probation, however, and was ordered to serve six months in jail.
McNeal also was charged with battery for an incident in February 2009. He was sentenced in municipal court to one year in jail, but appealed the case to district court. Later that same year, he pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to time served.
In a letter to Judge Ben Burgess, McNeal urged him to review his case.
“Your honor, please work with me. I know your (sic) very busy, and I may be a small fish in your world. But I appreciate you for even reading this letter.”
Then McNeal added a postscript.
“I’m not a bad person, sir.”
A search of Sedgwick County District Court records by The Eagle turned up four protection from abuse or protection from stalking cases that name McNeal as the defendant. McNeal was ordered to stay away from women and children in two of the cases – from 2007 and 2012 – amid allegations he tried to break into the homes of ex-girlfriends and harrassed them. One case, involving family members, was dismissed in 2013 after neither McNeal nor the person who filed the complaint showed up for a court hearing.
One case is pending, records show. In that case a neighbor of McNeal’s claims McNeal visited and refused to leave her home on Oct. 30, then six days later spoke obscenely to her, including making sexual statements. The woman also wrote in her request for a protective order that McNeal “barraged me (with) strikes” to the head and face and “kicks to my body” when she tried to go into her house.
McNeal remained in Sedgwick County Jail on Thursday evening on $250,000 bond in the attempted-murder case. He was being housed in the jail’s clinic, records show.
Mosley said that several people called in tips to Crime Stoppers after the reward was raised to the maximum of $2,500. Two towing companies had offered another $2,500 in reward money.
WSU officials held a safety forum earlier this week to talk with students, staff and faculty about the incident and their safety concerns. Some students at WSU were relieved Thursday that an arrest had been made.
Bethany Heintz, a sophomore and a resident assistant at Shocker Hall, said: “This was one of multiple instances that have happened on campus. I’m always getting e-mail alerts for crimes that have happened in the area, but this was the most horrifying. It was so violent.
“I feel secure on campus, but the areas around here are not necessarily the safest.”
Heintz said she is hopeful justice will be served.
“I’m glad he is not a threat anymore,” Heintz said. “I hope the woman recovers.”
Contributing: Amy Renee Leiker and Beccy Tanner of The Eagle