James White Admits to Killing Jackie Neal, Tells Family He's Sorry

Published: Feb. 22, 2006 at 10:38 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2006 at 11:22 PM CST
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James White, Jackie Neal
James White, Jackie Neal

Seasoned East Baton Rouge Sheriff's deputies left a courtroom in tears Wednesday, after the mother of blues singer Jackie Neal confronted her daughter's killer. This came as James White pleaded guilty to first degree murder for killing Neal, and attempted first degree murder for shooting another woman who survived.

Before Judge Richard Anderson sentenced White to life in prison, the now-convicted murderer heard words spoken straight from the heart from Jackie's mother. In open court, Shirley Neal told White that he not only ripped away part of her family, but part of her heart.

In an exclusive interview to 9 News, Shirley Neal said, "I told him I don't hate him. I just hate what he done to my family... because, you know, we're a close family and he took my baby from me."

Jackie's famous father, Raful Neal, belted out his blues for years, and the family followed. A rising star in the blues world, Jackie Neal was gunned down inside a salon on Florida Boulevard in March of last year. The gunman, her angry ex-boyfriend, also shot another woman and himself, but both of them survived. That wasn't the only time White tried to take his own life. In June of last year, White overdosed on pills while in prison.

By pleading guilty, James White avoided the death penalty, something the victim's mother says she's okay with.

White's lawyer, Nelvil Hollingsworth, said, "I do believe that Mr. White's life was spared by the Christianity of the victim's family and the integrity of the prosecutor, Tracy Barbarro."

James White apologized to the victim's family. It was an apology Jackie's mother says she's not sure she's ready to accept. "But I know he's sorry... I know he's sorry. I can see it in his face," she said. "I told him his mother can go see him at the jail... and I've got to go the grave [to see my daughter]."

Jackie Neal was one of ten children. She was planning a European tour with her band when she was killed.

Reporter: Avery Davidson and Robb Hays