Deaf man stabbed, sign language confusion could be to blame


Robert Jarell Neal (Mugshot courtesy, Burlington Police)

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BURLINGTON, N.C. ---A suspect has been charged with stabbing a handicapped man in an assault that occurred Wednesday night in Burlington.

Robert Jarell Neal, 22, is charged with felony assault on a handicapped person and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury.

According to police, officers responded shortly after 5 p.m. to a call for assistance at the intersection of Maple Avenue and Miller Street.

Police say responders found Terrance Ervin Daniels, 45, in the grass at the intersection suffering from multiple stab wounds.

The victim had been involved in an altercation that occurred on East Morehead Street before he walked to the intersection where he was found, police said.

Burlington Police Captain Steve Smith says they are investigating indications that the victim's use of sign language may have confused or upset the attacker. "We are looking into whether or not the suspect thought the sign language was gang signs being displayed."

Cpt. Smith specified it was a working theory, not a confirmed motive.

Police were were planning to interview the victim at the hospital as soon as possible. Daniels was initially taken to Alamance Regional Medical Center for treatment, but he was transferred to UNC Chapel Hill Hospital.

He had surgery and is in stable condition as of 3 p.m. Thursday, according to Burlington Police Cpl. Kevin King.

Several people who live near Maple Street say they saw Daniels attacked.

"My voice is gone from me screaming, 'Stop, stop, leave that man alone," said Candace Gerrington through tears Thursday.

She said Daniels was trying to defend himself, "Throwing his hands up like this. Next thing I saw was somebody stabbing and grinding him," recalled Gerringon.

Gerrington also knows the suspect, and says she saw Neal with a knife moments before the stabbing.

Mary Latta also lives nearby and saw Daniels after he'd been stabbed. "He was stabbed all around his body, his hands and face were cut up," she described. "It was bad."

Jack Myatt has lived in the area for more than thirty years. "It amazes me," he said, shaking his head. "Bad people would rather stay up all night and hunt trouble than to take a job! A legitimate job."

Latta added, "Whoever did that, I hope they suffer for it."

Police say they took the Robert Neal into custody in Elon around 12:15 a.m. Thursday after obtaining a warrant for his arrest.

Neal is being held under a $500,000 secured bond in the Alamance County Detention Facility.

Neal's criminal history includes 3 Assaults on a Female, Assault with Intent to Kill, 2 Communicating Threats, DWI, Injury to Real Property, Injury to personal property and 2 Resist, delay or obstruction of officers.

Police are still investigating and ask that anyone with further information would call them at (336) 229-3500.

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