A homeless “thrill seeker” who killed one man apparently at random and tried to kill another has dodged a potential life sentence — the result of “proof problems” that could have derailed prosecutors’ case against him.
Jimmy Lee Neill Jr., 28, on Tuesday pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in stabbings on Aug. 30, 2018, that killed Randol F. Lille and wounded Justin Thompson.
Under the deal, Neill agreed to a 17-year prison sentence. A provision in his deal guarantees he will serve at least 75 percent of that term, except for credit for time served awaiting trial, at more than 400 days.
Both men were attacked on the same evening near downtown Colorado Springs, and authorities blamed Neill’s dark hobby of taking drugs and targeting people at random for the “thrill.”
But the death of a key witness, and difficulties staying in touch with the surviving victim, could have resulted in an acquittal at trial.
“Proof problems, I would say, are the reason that we brokered this agreement,” said prosecutor Grant Libby.
The witness who died was the only person who saw Neill with a knife that night, depriving prosecutors of a key link in their “chain of inference.”
Another person saw him beating up Lille on a front stoop in the 200 block of East Las Vegas Street but didn’t see a stabbing occur, another gap in the evidence.
Lille’s body was found in a nearby home several hours after that attack. Thompson was stabbed the same evening in nearby Dorchester Park.
Neill’s attorney, Molly Hostetler, said she would have raised the possibility of self-defense in at least one of the attacks had Neill made it to trial.
Neill has a record of unpredictability, authorities say.
In June 2018, he was caught on tape at a convenience store knocking out a man with a cane.
Although Neill claimed self-defense at the time, the video showed what appeared to be an unprovoked assault, Libby said.
Neill pleaded guilty to third-degree assault in the attack and was sentenced to probation, which he violated with the Aug. 30, 2018, assaults.
Acknowledging the light sentence for the crime involved, 4th Judicial District Judge Michael McHenry nonetheless called the plea bargain appropriate.
“It’s very rational, given the evidence I heard,” McHenry said.