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Published: Friday, 7/17/2009

Inmate guilty in woman's death

Within weeks of completing a two-year prison sentence for severely beating a woman during a domestic dispute, Rochelle Neal faces additional time behind bars after entering a plea in the woman's recent death.

Neal, 47, entered an Alford plea in Lucas County Common Pleas Court yesterday to involuntary manslaughter. Originally charged with murder, Neal faces up to 10 years in prison when sentenced Aug. 4.

Neal was sentenced to two years in prison Oct. 30, 2007, after entering an Alford plea to attempted felonious assault in the beating of Shirley Walker, with whom he lived. At the time, she suffered bleeding on the brain from blunt-force trauma and bruising consistent with being choked.

In an Alford plea, the defendant maintains his innocence or does not admit he committed a crime but pleads guilty because he decides it's in his best interest. The court treats it as a guilty plea.

Ms. Walker, 53, died Jan. 11 in Flower Hospital after spending 1 1/2 years in a Sylvania nursing home. Assistant County Prosecutor Michael Loisel said she was in a semicomatose state for much of that time.

The Lucas County Coroner's Office said her death was a result of complications resulting from the trauma and ruled it a homicide.

Neal has served his sentence in the Grafton Correctional Institution, west of Cleveland, and was scheduled to be released Aug. 27.

Judge James Bates yesterday accepted the plea and found Neal guilty of the new charge. The murder charge will be dismissed at his sentencing next month.

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