published Friday, June 1st, 2012

Slaying suspect Adolph 'Sonny' Neal arrested

A deputy packs gear into the trunk of his squad car outside of the Whitfield County Sheriff's Department in Dalton, Ga., after the apprehension of Adolph "Sonny" Neal on Thursday.  After a large-scale search Wednesday night, Neal was arrested by officers at around 1:30 p.m. on Thursday after he was spotted again along state Highway 201 in Varnell, Ga.
A deputy packs gear into the trunk of his squad car outside of the Whitfield County Sheriff's Department in Dalton, Ga., after the apprehension of Adolph "Sonny" Neal on Thursday. After a large-scale search Wednesday night, Neal was arrested by officers at around 1:30 p.m. on Thursday after he was spotted again along state Highway 201 in Varnell, Ga.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

DALTON, Ga. — As police were hunting for suspected killer Adolph "Sonny" Neal nearly a week after his wife and her grandfather's deaths, Dia Chastain spotted a man who looked like him walking down Highway 201 in Varnell.

Chastain said she was reading a Chattanooga Times Free Press article about Neal on Wednesday when she looked up from her iPhone and spotted the 49-year-old in a red T-shirt and blue jeans, sweat pouring down his face. She immediately recognized him because she is also a customer at the Neals' tanning salon.

"That's the guy," she shouted to her husband, Gilbert.

Gilbert Chastain hustled his wife to the Varnell police station and then drove by the spot again, spotting Neal darting toward the woods.

Neal hid out and eluded more than 100 law enforcement officers, some with heavy equipment or tracking dogs, some in a helicopter. But someone else spotted him in the same area Thursday and police found him hiding in the woods.

He was arrested without a fight less than a mile from where the Chastains spotted him near the Dollar General in Varnell, said Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Dan Sims.

Neal has been on the run since last week. Police have said they believe he killed his 27-year-old wife, Jessica, and her 69-year-old grandfather, Donald Shedd, but won't release details about how they died.

Police say Neal faces two counts of murder. Prosecutors say he appears to qualify for the death penalty, but no decision has been made.

"It's kind of a two-step process," said Conasauga Circuit District Attorney Bert Poston. "Can you do it? And should you do it?"

But authorities still aren't sure whether Neal had help from friends who lived in the area or how he was able to flee without a trace.

Sheriff Scott Chitwood said Neal was hauled in handcuffs to a hospital for treatment of minor injuries from being in the woods.

As police were driving Neal away, television cameras captured his adult daughter, Miranda Buckner, shouting to her dad, "We love you and we'll stand behind you!"

The Neals were married for eight years and had a 9-year-old daughter. They owned a tanning salon in Dalton called Dazzle, and family and friends say they were both well-liked.

Both loved to drink and go out to bars, Buckner said in a previous interview. Her father's three arrests were from getting in trouble when he drank, she said.

Buckner didn't respond to calls seeking comment Thursday.

Chitwood said he's thankful Neal has been caught and is grateful for the flood of help from law enforcement across North Georgia.

Dia Chastain said she hopes to receive a reward that the sheriff's office was offering last week, but either way she's just relieved he was found.

And she's thankful she left her keys at home and had to turn around to get them, because that's when she spotted him.

"I think it was meant to be that I would have left my keys," she said.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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