DADE CITY — Sylvia Neeley, dressed in a black suit and high heels, turned herself in this morning to begin serving her prison sentence for killing a man a decade ago who she believed was molesting her mentally retarded daughter.
Neeley, 48, shot Arthur Danner on May 24, 1998, in his Land O'Lakes mobile home. She told authorities he had boasted about sexually abusing her daughter, then 12, and said he could do it again. Stoned on beer and painkillers, she went to her home next door, grabbed a gun, returned to Danner's trailer and unloaded into his chest.
Then she reloaded and fired at his groin.
Neeley had reported the suspected abuse three months earlier to authorities. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office and child welfare workers investigated, but they had not found enough evidence to charge Danner, 73, with anything.
She told Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa in court this morning that she wished Danner had been arrested.
"I'm very sorry for the crime I committed," she said through tears. "I just felt like no one was helping my daughter."
One Department of Children and Families counselor, Marilyn Loper, had testified at Neely's trial that their investigation found some evidence Danner may have abused her daughter, but there probably wasn't enough to press criminal charges.
"She said, 'You mean he is going to get away with this?' " Loper testified. "I said, 'It's likely. It's not 100 percent, but it's quite likely that he will indeed get away (with) it. So it's your job to make sure that he doesn't bother your child any more.' "
Neeley was convicted of the killing once at trial in 2000, but an appeals court found that the judge had made errors and granted her a new trial. She has been out on bail since December 2002.
With her new trial looming, Neeley instead pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but will be credited for the more than four years she has already spent behind bars.
Siracusa gave her two weeks before today's sentencing to get her affairs in order and move her daughter, now 23, into a group home.
Neeley said before the hearing that she visited her daughter at the home this morning.
As she was led away in handcuffs, she carried a Bible, glasses case and small book of photos. Her family sat a few rows away, crying.
"I'm heartbroken, absolutely heartbroken," said her mother, Frances Hayman. "She was my wild child, but she's still my child."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.