Crime

North Texas man sentenced to 4 years for killing neighbor in 2016 fight at apartment

A neighbor of a North Richland Hills man killed in 2016 during a fight has been sentenced to four years in prison after a Tarrant County jury repeatedly differed on the injuries to the victim.

Jurors also sent a note to the judge saying that they disagreed with prosecutors who argued the killing was not self-defense.

But the jury on Friday found 30-year-old Matthew Surratt of Arlington guilty of murder/sudden passion in the killing of 55-year-old Dewayne McNeill of North Richland Hills and sentenced him to prison.

“This decision was made by a jury of Tarrant County residents after finding sudden passion was involved in the incident,” said Sam Jordan, a spokeswoman with the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, in an email. “We accept the jurors’ decision and appreciate the time they dedicated to their service.”

After a night of drinking, McNeill and Surratt got into a fight on Dec. 31, 2016, in Surratt’s North Richland Hills apartment.

“We are disappointed in the outcome, but respect the jury’s decision,” said David Owens of Fort Worth, Surratt’s attorney, in a telephone interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Owens also has filed motions for an appeal and a new trial.

The jury sent several notes to State District Judge Robb Catalano in Criminal District Court No. 3 during deliberations questioning the injuries.

One note said, “Jury is disagreeing on nurse (specialized training in strangulation). Where she testified re: the white area on Dewayne’s neck injury after the heart stopped beating.”

Another noted described it this way, “Jury disagreeing on testimony from Dr. Roe & JPS trauma nurse re: Exhibit 81 (State).”

Jurors also had at least one other difference as pointed out in this note, “The jury disagrees with the closing argument on the state’s side re: that it was not self defense.”

McNeill died from neck trauma with asphyxia in Surratt’s North Richland Hills apartment on Dec. 31, 2016, according to a ruling by officials with the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office. His death was a homicide.

An arrest warrant obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram gave this brief account of the incident:

Initially, Surratt told investigators that on the night of Dec. 30, 2016, McNeill arrived at his apartment, where he asked Surratt if he could make something special for his girlfriend. Surratt did rock work. McNeill also lived in the same North Richland Hills complex.

Surratt said they made a deal and he thought McNeill had left his apartment. Surratt told North Richland Hills police he took a shower and he later found McNeill lying on the floor. McNeill’s breathing wasn’t “responsive,” so he began CPR on McNeill and called 911.

When they arrived, officers found McNeill on a kitchen floor and it appeared there had been a struggle, according to the warrant. A shotgun and a turned-over bird cage also were discovered lying near McNeill’s body.

Surratt could not remember how the bird cage ended up near McNeill, but he recalled how he was drinking with McNeill and his neighbor kept pushing him to drink more, but he said the two had not argued.

Officers observed scratch marks on Surratt’s hands, but he told detectives the marks were from blades he used from his rock work. Investigators also noticed bruising on McNeill’s face.

On Jan. 5, 2017, Surratt was photographed by police who observed numerous scratches, scrapes and bite marks. DNA evidence also was collected from Surratt.

Months later, DNA reports indicated a swab from a bite mark just below Surratt’s right nipple had McNeill’s DNA profile on it. Other DNA reports from swabs in the apartment indicated McNeill and Surratt’s DNA profiles were found.

The arrest warrant was issued in September 2017.

Surratt was charged with murder in October 2017, according to Tarrant County criminal court records. He was booked into jail and later released on $250,000 bail.

An indictment indicated Surratt strangled McNeill with his hands or with a shotgun.

In a motion filed before the murder trial, prosecutors noted that Surratt was arrested for driving while intoxicated in November 2012 in Travis County.

Prosecutors also noted that Surratt violated his bond conditions in November 2018 when he provided a urine sample and it tested positive for alcohol.

Testimony in his trial last week indicated Surratt had fought for his life when McNeill brandished the shotgun after drinking and taking drugs that he was not prescribed. Surratt did not tell investigators about the fight just after McNeill’s body was found because he also had been drinking and suffered several blows to the head in the fight, which caused a temporary loss of memory, according to testimony.

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