James Ellis McNeal

James Ellis McNeal

Courtesy photo

When two men pulled guns on Matthew Frerichs in a Lincoln apartment one afternoon last May and told him to give them everything he had, the 20-year-old punched one of his would-be robbers.

As the two struggled, Frerichs heard a gunshot and felt pain just above his left hip. He’d been shot and fell to the floor.

More shots came as he crawled away, one hitting him in the back.

Thursday morning, one of the men, a 20-year-old from Kansas City, Kansas, went to prison for it, still refusing to give up the name of the second man, the one who Frerichs believes shot him.

"Mr. Frerichs is lucky to be alive. I think we all realize that," Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Jim Rocke said at the sentencing hearing for James "Jamie" McNeal.

He said officials will never know for sure who is responsible for shooting Frerichs in the apartment at 26th and J streets. Both men fired at him.

"In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter. Mr. McNeal shot numerous times. Due to his incompetence in marksmanship it appears he never hit Mr. Frerichs. But it doesn’t appear for want of trying," Rocke said, adding that it very easily could’ve ended up a murder case.

McNeal pleaded no contest to attempted robbery and use of a firearm to commit a felony.

Defense attorney Spike Eickholt said McNeal has called what happened May 30 the "most pointless decision he’s ever made."

Now, he doesn’t know when he’ll get to see his young son again after seeing him for the first time at the courtroom door, Eickholt said before McNeal got a chance to speak.

McNeal said he wanted to apologize to Frerichs, who wasn’t in the courtroom, and to families on both sides.

"I know I made a big mistake. I hope to learn from this," he said.

But Lancaster County District Judge Jodi Nelson took issue with his choice of words.

"This is not a mistake," she said. "This was an intentional, planned event. It involved you and a person you will not disclose driving a number of hours to Lincoln, Nebraska, for the sole and only purpose to rob someone of marijuana."

There were so many opportunities for him not to go forward with the plan, Nelson said.

"But for probably some darn good luck on Mr. Frerichs’ part, he survived his injuries," she said.

Nelson said McNeal, who had played two seasons on the basketball team at Garden City Community College before his arrest, called himself a role model. But role models don’t pull guns on people, she said.

She said McNeal claims marijuana isn’t a bad thing, but she disagreed.

"It certainly was the source of these crimes," Nelson said.

She said there was no question that serious penalties have to follow serious conduct and sentenced him to 30 to 40 years in prison, meaning he’ll have to serve 17½ years before he’s eligible for parole.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger.



Lori Pilger is a public safety reporter.

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