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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Another Figure In Dibartolo Case Killed Prosecutor Says Shootings Unrelated; Defense Attorney Says Events ‘Totally Bizarre’

For the second time in just more than four weeks, a bit player in the Tom DiBartolo murder case has been shot to death in east Spokane.

Each victim was killed in the 2500 block of East Pacific.

Police said 38-year-old Samuel F. McNeal died Sunday after being shot at close range with a rifle inside a home.

On Jan. 14, Curtis R. Jones - whom police briefly considered a suspect in Patty DiBartolo’s murder - was shot to death in the street. Police called the 19-year-old man’s death gang-related.

While Jones’ killer has not been caught, James E. Evans, 40, is facing a first-degree manslaughter charge in the McNeal shooting.

“There’s absolutely nothing that connects these shootings,” Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Sweetser said Tuesday.

DiBartolo, a former sheriff’s deputy convicted of murdering his wife, had hoped McNeal would be a key defense witness.

McNeal was to testify about two men he drove across town after Patty DiBartolo’s murder. McNeal said the two talked about killing a woman.

DiBartolo told police he and his wife were approached by two black men in Lincoln Park on Nov. 2, 1996. After demanding money, one man grabbed a pistol and fired two shots, DiBartolo said - one shot killing Patty DiBartolo, the second wounding the deputy in the side.

But McNeal never testified.

A Spokane County jury convicted DiBartolo of first-degree murder. He’s in jail, about to be transferred to a state prison to begin a 26-year sentence.

McNeal and Jones both had several convictions for property and drug crimes, according to court documents.

Police investigated Jones and concluded he was not in Lincoln Park at the time of Patty DiBartolo’s murder.

Sweetser said police also looked into and discounted McNeal’s story about overhearing two men talk about the killing.

DiBartolo’s attorney, Maryann Moreno, had planned to have McNeal testify about those remarks. But a judge ruled that some of his account was hearsay that couldn’t be admitted. And McNeal changed his story, troubling the defense attorney.

Learning of McNeal’s death Tuesday, Moreno said, “My mouth fell open for about a minute.”

She said the odds of McNeal and Jones both dying within two months of the DiBartolo verdict seem incredibly small.

“I know lots of people who live that so-called high-risk lifestyle these men were part of,” Moreno said.

“But to have this happen to two people whose only link was as persons of interest in the DiBartolo murder seems totally bizarre.”

McNeal and Jones knew each other but were not close friends, Moreno said.

Police said McNeal was killed early Sunday after entering a home at 2504 E. Pacific, occupied by about six people he knew.

Witnesses said Evans was staying at the house and was asleep when McNeal arrived.

They said McNeal pushed his way into the house and woke up Evans. Witnesses also told police Evans’ wife had been assaulted by McNeal two days earlier.

During a confrontation in a hallway, McNeal saw Evans pointing a rifle in his direction. McNeal supposedly said, “Go ahead, shoot me,” according to police.

Evans said he “jumped back” and the rifle accidentally fired, hitting McNeal in the chest.

Evans is being held in the Spokane County Jail. Bail was set Tuesday at $50,000.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map of area where Sam McNeal was slain Sunday