The Wrongful Death of Larry Neal
The Secret Death of a Mentally Ill Heart Patient in a
Tennessee Jail and the Subsequent Cover-Up

REMEMBERING LARRY

Larry was a remarkable person. Our mother reports that Larry suffered from an extremely high fever with a case of mumps at age nine. Until that time, Larry was like other children, but he was never completely rational after that. Whether or not that fever caused Larry’s problems is not understood. Diseases of the mind are still scientific mysteries.

Despite his mental illness, Larry was intelligent and literate. Larry had an almost photographic memory, and as a youngster, he loved to recite at our school’s weekly talent shows. Larry could recite verbatim the Webster Dictionary for as long as he was allowed time on stage. On his “bad” days, Larry sang and recited very loud and constantly. Larry would often deliver the Preamble to the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, the Declaration of Independence, and Bible verses. My siblings and I had an advantage over other students of American History because Larry repeatedly recited these great works. For all we know, Larry may have died reciting them. Despite his frequent and lengthy periods as an inpatient throughout his adolescence and early adulthood, Larry managed to complete 10th grade. The trouble with schools having students recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning is that many grow up, like Larry and me, actually believing that they have a right to “freedom and justice for all.” As children, we unequivocally believed the pledge applied equally to our family, our neighbors, and to everyone across America. I now realize that although the rights guaranteed under the Constitution should apply to all Americans, some must work very hard to make them a personal reality. For over four years, we have been doing just that in our quest for justice for Larry.

Larry was a patriot. When our brothers grew up, the Viet Nam war was underway, and Ed, who is two years older than Larry, volunteered for the Marines, and Larry immediately tried to enlist, too. Of course, Larry was rejected, but it was in his heart to be a soldier. One day after Ed returned home safely from war, Larry found his long military coat in the closet. Although it was a warm spring, Larry strutted around our little town for days wearing that coat proudly! He even boarded the bus taking students to my high school wearing that very coat. Since everyone in town knew Larry’s problems, the principal of the high school humored Larry and allowed him to attend a music class. None of the students is likely to ever forget that day!

Larry was a loving person, often giving away his money and clothes to other unfortunate people. Had Larry been a threat to society, he might have been hospitalized rather than jailed, thus saving his life. Although he lived in a State-appointed care home, Larry telephoned and visited his Memphis-area family members daily, always affirming his love for us before ending his call or visit. We assume that Larry was not allowed to call during his fatal incarceration, or he certainly would have telephoned for help.

Some of Larry’s relatives may still be embarrassed about his irrational behavior, having been teased often about our “crazy” relative. But I am not ashamed to say I had a handsome, loving, and very intelligent brother named Larry Morris Neal, and he was mentally ill. It is painful to consider the possible scenarios under which Larry may have died: Mace? Taser blasts? A heart attack brought on by terrifying hallucinations due to deprivation of Larry’s psychiatric drugs? We will never quit trying to uncover the truth about Larry’s secret incarceration and death. Larry’s family has a right to full disclosure.

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