Vancleave man loses appeal of conviction in double homicide

Published 5:32 pm Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The state Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a Vancleave man’s 2005 conviction in a double homicide in Jackson County.

James Dahl was convicted of two counts of capital murder for the 2003 deaths of Harold Neal and Sheryl Sellers. He was sentenced to life without parole on both counts.

Dahl was one of two suspects in the killings of Neal, 48, of Gautier, and Sellers, 49, of Pascagoula.

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Neal and Sellers were found dead near a houseboat rented by James Hogancamp, who pleaded guilty to two counts of murder in the case.

Hogancamp testified that he and Dahl planned to kill Neal to settle a drug debt and steal crack cocaine.

Dahl testified he felt trapped into helping his friend, Hogancamp, conceal the slaying. Dahl said he feared Hogancamp would kill him and his family. Dahl denied taking part in the murders.

Prosecutors said Dahl and Hogancamp covered the bodies with debris on a marshy island near the houseboat. The decomposing bodies were discovered by police 14 days after the murders.

On appeal, Dahl argued that his attorney should have done a better job.

Specifically, Dahl pointed to his attorney’s failure to move for a mistrial on the grounds that the jury deliberated as Hurricane Katrina was churning toward the Mississippi coast. Court records show Dahl was convicted and sentenced on Aug. 26, 2005, three days before Katrina came ashore.

Appeals Judge Virginia Carlton, writing Tuesday for the court, said Dahl failed to show that if his lawyer had acted any differently that the jury’s verdict would have been different.