Man accused of 1973 slaying of Linda O’Keefe and child sexual assaults pleads not guilty

James Alan Neal, 72, pleaded not guilty Friday to six felony charges, including one count of murder while committing or attempting to commit sexual assault in the 1973 killing of Linda O’Keefe, 11, of Newport Beach.
(Courtesy of Orange County district attorney’s office)

The man accused of murdering 11-year-old Linda O’Keefe of Newport Beach in 1973 and of multiple sexual assaults against minors pleaded not guilty to all charges Friday.

James Alan Neal entered the plea during his arraignment in Orange County Superior Court.

Neal, 72, of Monument, Colo., is charged with one count of murder while committing or attempting to commit sexual assault on a child, as well as five felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a child younger than 14, according to the county district attorney’s office. The charges carry possible sentencing enhancements for multiple victims.

Neal could face a maximum sentence of 82 years to life in state prison if convicted, the district attorney’s office said.

Neal was arrested Feb. 19 in connection with the strangulation death of Linda, who disappeared while walking home from summer school in Corona del Mar on July 6, 1973.

Her body was found the next day in a ditch off Back Bay Drive.

In 2018, Newport Beach police piqued public awareness of the long-cold case with a social media campaign called “Linda’s Story.”

A match in a genealogical DNA database helped authorities home in on Neal as a suspect, authorities said. Then, using surveillance methods, investigators were able to get DNA from Neal that connected him to evidence from the crime scene, according to prosecutors.

On March 11, Neal was extradited to Orange County from Colorado and was booked into Orange County Jail without bail.

Prosecutors this month charged Neal with three additional counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a child allegedly committed in Riverside County between July 1995 and July 2000. Two more counts are related to crimes against another child in Riverside County between March 2002 and March 2004, according to court documents.

Prosecutors said the victims in the more recent cases came forward after Neal was connected to the high-profile O’Keefe case.

In light of the newer cases, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said this month that his office is “absolutely” looking for possible additional victims.

Neal is scheduled back in court June 14.