As reported in the Riverside Enterprise – Friday, October 30, 1936
Temecula Blacksmith, Peace Officer Accused of Killing Own Wife, Again on Witness Stand; Scientific Facts Given by Psychiatrists
With one part of his defense hard hit by the testimony of three celebrated psychiatrists, John D. McNeill, Temecula peace officer, last night believed to be within 24 hours of the time when his fate on a murder charge growing out of his wife’s violent death will be placed in the hands of the superior court jury.
It appeared likely the case will be given to the nine women and three men in Superior Judge O.K. Morton’s courtroom late today. The defense surprised courtroom observers when it case was rested after McNeill testified. When court adjourned at 5 p.m., the prosecution was in the midst of rebuttal testimony.
All three of the noted alienists – Dr. Victor Parkin, Dr. Fletcher Van Meter and Dr. Leo J. Adelstein – were called as rebuttal witnesses as the district attorney sought to disprove McNeill’s claim that he suffered a lapse of memory for the few minutes period in which his wife, Mrs. Melvey McNeill was beaten to death in the kitchen of their Temecula residence.
Each of the expert witnesses testified that, in his opinion, McNeill is professing “pseudo-amnesia” and merely feigning loss of memory for the period in which the state charges he dealt fatal blows upon his wife’s head and body with hard-rubber rollers from a washing machine wringer.
Each of the psychiatrists declared that McNeill’s memory for insignificant incidents occurring before and after the death struggle make his claim of loss of memory incredible. Dr. Parkin declared that McNeill by his own statement disclosed he had a ‘guilty conscience” when he showed fear of his son, Johnny, when the latter declared he would kill the man who had beaten his mother. He said this proved McNeill remembered the incidents of the period which he has left blank in his account of the tragedy.
Defense Cross Examines
Defense Attorneys Russell B. Waite and John Neblett cross-examined each witness closely on the possibility that McNeill has lost his powers of recollection of the incidents in those harrowing minutes of the struggle, perhaps due to the tremendous stress and excitement. The witnesses said extreme excitement can produce confusion and poor recollection “but not true amnesia”. The defense counsel pressed their point about loss of recollection, steering away from a claim of straight amnesia.
During re-direct testimony under questioning by Attorney Neblett, the defendant made a half-way admission that he dealt the blows that brought death to his wife.
Near the close of questioning the attorney suddenly said: “Mr. McNeill you don’t deny you caused the wounds to your wife, do you?”
“No”, came the answer in a hoarse whisper.
“And you don’t deny that you have probably caused those wounds?” Again he replied negatively.
“And you don’t deny that you were the one who put your wife’s glasses on the sink and pulled out the drawers in the bureaus?”
“No,” he said.
At this juncture the defendant was turned over to the prosecution for re-cross examination.
McNeill was the one witness in his behalf. He was called to the stand Wednesday afternoon and his attorneys completed their direct examination early yesterday afternoon. Dist. Atty. Redwine cross-examined for about half an hour, bringing out no new details about the defendant’s version of the tragedy. He had testified that when he arrived at his home his wife was in an ugly mood over an insurance policy payment and threatened to kill him with a revolver.
He said he picked up a wringer roller and threw it at her. It hit her head. He threw another and it struck her in the stomach. She dropped the gun and came toward him. He grappled with her, he said, and there his mind became a blank. He remembered nothing until he “came to” as he stood in the yard.