A teen-ager arrested in the Aug. 8 murder of a 7-year-old Azusa boy was released from custody Tuesday night after authorities determined there was insufficient evidence linking him to the killing.
Kevin Neal, 18, of Azusa was freed despite what Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators and the district attorney's office described as a strong physical link between Neal and the murder.
" He remains a suspect," district attorney's spokesman Al Albergate said. "We have asked the sheriff's detectives to continue investigating, and they will. There is physical evidence which connects the suspect to the crime, but it is not the kind of evidence that ties him conclusively."
Neal was arrested Friday on suspicion of beating to death Carlos Adame. Under state law, he had to be either charged or released within 48 hours of his arrest, Albergate said. Weekends do not count when the time is computed.
Moments after cutting off his jail identification bracelet in the kitchen of his parent's home, where he lives, Neal said he was relieved, but aprehensive, about where the investigation will lead.
"I'm still scared. I've still got something to worry about. They still have something to work with, I guess," he said.
While investigators would not comment on the evidence in the case, Neal said he believed he has two strikes against him: The fact that he failed a polygraph test and that investigators matched his pubic hairs to some found on the boy's body.
Neal, whose family says he is hyperactive, claimed the polygraph was inaccurate and denied that the hairs were his.
About a dozen of Neal's friends waited for him in front of his parents' home. One of them, Manuel Meza, said he was one of three people who accompanied Neal to Los Angeles at the time Carlos was believed to have been murdered. Meza said he told his story to sheriff's investigators but said he thought they were reluctant to believe it.
"They don't want to listen to us," he said. "They tell us we keep changing our stories."
Neighbor Janice Escoto, who said Neal has babysat her two children, said she would continue to let him work for her.
The Adame boy's bruised and battered, partially clad body was found Aug. 9 in a plant nursery less than a block from his home in the 600 block of South Lark Ellen Avenue.
In an interview with a Times reporter shortly after the body was found, Neal described himself as a friend of the murdered boy who often played video games with the child.
"He was a great little kid," said Neal, who rode his bicycle in and out of the roped-off crime scene. "We played video games together a lot."
Neal, an unemployed former student of Gladstone High School in Azusa, said he spent the early evening of Aug. 8 with Carlos and then went to Los Angeles. When he returned around midnight, Neal said, Azusa police and neighbors were searching the neighborhood for Carlos.
Neal's stepfather, Bill Atkins, said Tuesday that although his son remains a suspect he believes the teen's involvement is over.
"The way I look at it was that Kevin was all (investigators) had," he said. "Hopefully, they'll get off Kevin's back and go after the guy who did this."
Atkins said Neal may have become a suspect because of his unusual interest in police work. On the day the body was discovered, Atkins said, Neal sought out investigators to tell them what he knew of the crime and to watch the investigation close up.
"Even the detectives admit that it was Kevin's interest that first made them look at him," he said.