Dayton man convicted in 2014 rape case can file for new trial, Ohio Supreme Court rules

A Dayton man convicted and sentenced to a total of 20 years in prison will be allowed to file for a new trial, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled.

The Ohio Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a trial court must grant a motion to let the Tracy McNeal request a new trial after the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office failed to turn over a lab report that could disprove an element of the prosecution’s case and raise questions about the victim’s testimony.

This does not mean that a new trial will be granted, however.

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The case

McNeal, now 45, was accused in 2014 of rape after an incident at a Dayton apartment.

McNeal, his wife and their four children were temporarily living at the apartment owned by the alleged victim.

Documents said that on Sept. 29, 2014, McNeal and his wife, as well as the apartment owner, her sister and her husband were drinking alcohol in the apartment when the owner started to feel sick and was taken to her bedroom. Later, the sister came to check on her and said she saw McNeal standing in the bedroom’s doorway with his pants down, pulling the door shut behind him.

The alleged victim later testified that she was “knocked out” from drinking and passed in and out of consciousness as someone dragged her across the bed. When she woke up she realized someone had had sex with her.

McNeal was charged with rape, and because of his criminal history, which includes convictions for felonious assault and burglary, he was charged with a repeat violent offender specification. He was found guilty and sentenced in November 2016 to 11 years in prison for the rape charge, and nine years in prison for the specification.

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McNeal didn’t file a motion for a new trial immediately after his conviction.

Defendants can request a new trial within 14 days normally, or within 120 days if the defendant had new evidence that couldn’t have been reasonably discovered or produced at trial, according to Ohio’s rules of criminal procedure. However, after 120 days, a defendant can request the court’s “leave” for a delayed motion for a new trial, which McNeal did in 2020.

In the motion, McNeal said he received a lab report from Dayton police through a public records request that said that the apartment owner didn’t have alcohol in her blood about 3.5 hours after the alleged rape was believed to have occurred. He included a sworn statement from his trial lawyer that the Montgomery County prosecutor didn’t turn over the document during discovery.

The trial court denied the motion without a hearing, and the Second District Appeals Court upheld the decision before the Ohio Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

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The ruling

The Supreme Court ruled that the trial court’s reasoning for denying the motion was incorrect. The trial court said that the prosecutor didn’t know about the report, but the state supreme court pointed to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that said the prosecutor has a duty to learn of any evidence favorable to the defense, so it doesn’t matter that the prosecutor didn’t know.

It also said that the trial court used the wrong standard to answer whether the report would not have changed the outcome of the trial based on the fact that the alleged victim tested positive for marijuana and an antianxiety drug. Instead, the state supreme court said the trial court should have considered whether the report could have put the case “in a different enough light to undermine confidence in the verdict.”

The case has been remanded back to the trial court to grant McNeal’s request and allow him to file a motion for a new trial.

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