A Baltimore jury on Friday found former Gophers basketball player Daquein McNeil not guilty of all charges, including a first-degree murder charge, stemming from a house-fire death from June 2017.
“We started the trial last Friday, and the jury got the case today,” Marci Johnson, one of public defenders representing McNeil said in an e-mail to the Star Tribune. “The verdict only took them about 40 minutes. We are all greatly relieved.”
McNeil, 25, was coach Richard Pitino’s first recruit for Minnesota and averaged about 10 minutes per game as a freshman guard on the Gophers’ 2014 NIT championship team. McNeil had lost both parents growing up in Baltimore, and Pitino stuck with him after originally offering him a scholarship when he was the coach at Florida International University.
“He needed us,” Pitino said last May. “And I thought we were really helping provide that family support that he never had.”
But the feel-good story for the Gophers took an abrupt turn in November 2014, when McNeil was arrested for allegedly beating his girlfriend in Minneapolis. McNeil never played for the Gophers again and left the university.
Baltimore police arrested McNeil on June 4, 2017, for allegedly setting fire to a Baltimore house in a drug dispute. Charles Brewer, 59, was found dead next door.
McNeil faced a potential life prison sentence and awaited his first trial at a maximum-security prison in Jessup, Md. After several delays, McNeil’s first trial finally started in November but resulted in a mistrial because of a hung jury, Johnson said.
McNeil’s family has called it a case of mistaken identity.
“It is an identity case,” Johnson told the Star Tribune last June. “There were some squatters living at a vacant building, and they were on drugs.
“[Brewer] had also been homeless but had been taken in by the neighbor. He was in very, very poor health. We’re still not sure on how much smoke there was next door because of differing reports.
“One of the addicts that was squatting identified Daquein as the person to collect, so there’s a lot of different things going on. Number one, was it [McNeil]? Number two, was it arson? Number three, was it murder?”
On Friday, the jury weighed in with its answers and set McNeil free.