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Long road to trial for Bonnie Neighbors murder suspect

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SMITHFIELD — Sometimes the wheels of justice turn slowly — and in a 47-year-old murder case, those wheels can turn at a snail’s pace.

That’s just what’s happening as prosecutors begin the process of taking the suspected killer to trial in Johnston County’s oldest cold case. The trial likely won’t happen until 2020.

“We’re not anywhere close to (a trial date),” Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle told The Daily Record of Dunn. “His attorney hasn’t even made an appearance in court with him yet; we’re nowhere near that.”

Larry Joe “London” Scott was taken into custody earlier this year after investigators say new DNA evidence linked him to the crime that left Neighbors dead. Scott was living in Florida in May when he was arrested and charged with murder.

Doyle says the long road to trial isn’t unusual. She said there are several factors that have and will continue to affect the case.

“He was extradited back here, his attorney was appointed and we’re going through the process of discovery,” she said. “It’s a very lengthy process. You’ve got to imagine a case that’s 47 years old has thousands and thousands and thousands of pages of discovery that we have to provide, so his attorney can’t do much until he goes through all of that.”

Doyle doesn’t put a timeline on when the case could actually see a courtroom. She chuckles when asked if it could be before the end of 2019.

“No, no, no, absolutely not,” she said. “They always are a long process with homicide cases. The prosecutor on the case has a full plate absolutely.”

When asked who be leading the prosecution for the case against 65-year-old Scott, Doyle said she has only two people in mind.

“My senior assistant district attorney Paul Jackson and I will prosecute the case together,” Doyle said. “I continue to prosecute all the vehicular homicide cases in Johnston County as well as other murder cases.”

Doyle was the lead prosecutor on the capital murder case of John Richardson, who received the death penalty several years ago. But the death penalty is not on the table in this case.

Neighbors was shot twice, bound, gagged, blindfolded, beaten and left for dead in a migrant housing building outside Benson with her unharmed infant son beside her.

Because the death penalty was not allowed in North Carolina in 1972, prosecutors are limited in what’s available to them as far as sentencing is concerned, Doyle said.

“It’s complicated as far as the sentencing guidelines,” she said. “The sentencing will be dictated by the sentencing guidelines in place back then, at the time period the crime was committed.”

It’s something Doyle says adds to the difficulty of prosecuting Scott.

“Any time you’re dealing with an old case, it makes things very complex,” she said. “And I can’t comment on the evidence.”

Scott was charged with the crime after the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office was encouraged to resubmit evidence from the case to the state crime lab for analysis using new DNA technology not available in 1972.