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5:37 AM Thu, Nov. 15th

McNeill faces up to 34 years in prison for child sex, kidnapping

Eric G. McNeill

Eric G. McNeill

PRESCOTT - A jury on Wednesday found aggravating factors in Eric G. McNeill's two convictions in a child sex trial and he could serve almost 34 years in prison.

McNeill, 65, was accused of sexual contact with three girls. One set of charges deals with a victim under 15 years old in 1986; a second with a victim over 15 in 1989; and the third a victim under 15 in 2011. Seven counts were dismissed throughout the course of the trial.

McNeill's case was featured on the "America's Most Wanted" television program in September 2012 and, based on tips authorities received, they determined he was in southern Oregon. On Sept. 19, 2012, U.S. Marshals spotted McNeill's vehicle at a roadside campground. With help from the Klamath Falls Police Department and Oregon State Police, they took him into custody without incident.

On Tuesday, the jury came back with two guilty verdicts, one for kidnapping and a second for sexual contact with a minor under 15. They deadlocked on 13 other counts, and Superior Court Judge Celé Hancock declared a mistrial on those charges.

Because the prosecution alleged that there were aggravating factors to his offenses, the six-man, six-woman jury took part Wednesday in the second phase of the trial, in which they decided whether the state could prove those aggravating factors.

Deputy County Attorney Steven Sisneros need to convince the jurors that the victims suffered emotional, physical or financial harm from the crimes. He called two witnesses, one for each count.

A relative of the youngest victim told the jury that the sexual conduct had an effect on both of them. The girl, she said, "knew her whole alphabet and could count to 20," but she began to regress as the abuse went on." Since testifying at the trial, the girl has started crying for no reason at random times.

The woman said she has had nightmares herself about "(McNeill) coming after (her)" and bad dreams about him "coming back and breaking in."

The adult kidnapping victim said she has "trust issues" that have contributed to the breakups of three marriages. She also said she experiences "night terrors," in which "I wake up (in the dream) and he's coming toward me with his hand up to cover my mouth."

When their testimony was complete, Sisneros said, "Was this a situation where everybody walks away unfazed? The state would argue, 'no.'"

Defense attorney Bob Gundacker acknowledged that he was in an usual position: He had to convince the jury that McNeill's crimes were "no worse" than any similar crime.

"You have to ask yourself," he said, "is what you heard (from witnesses) worse than what you would inherently expect to hear when an adult molests a child?"

After about an hour of deliberation, the jury came back with decisions that McNeill should be eligible for the maximum sentences: 8.75 years for the kidnapping and 27 years on the child sex charge, classified as a dangerous crime against a child.

Judge Tina Ainley sent sentencing for Jan. 13. She will also hear the state's decision on whether it will re-try McNeill on the charges on which the jury hung.

Follow the reporter on Twitter @AZNewsguy.