Philadelphia: A cloudy August afternoon, 2005.
A white stretch limousine snakes its way through rush hour traffic.
Behind it, moving up stealthily, is an undercover task force.
In the limo is a wanted man.
The charge - solicitation to commit murder. The evidence - this remarkable video tape.
“Normally I was gonna do it, my mother f---ing self. And I have the means too. But I said "No, I’m gonna get somebody to do this.”
That somebody -- a remarkable and unlikely undercover agent.
Linda McNeil: And no just hurt, no breakin up, you want her out right?
[Manny (Joseph) nods]
Linda McNeil: Ok, well there ya go.
Bob Kerwin: And I told her that we won't be able to stop him from shooting you. We're not going to be that close."
Suddenly, disaster. As the task force closes in, the limo picks up speed. Dodges through traffic. It's gone.
Somewhere in Philadelphia an unstable, possibly armed man with murder on his mind is on the loose.
The race to save a woman's life is on.
A car chase, an undercover videotape, explicit talk of murder - and a law-abiding citizen suddenly pegged as a professional assassin. A case, a crime thriller, so bizarre, it could only be... absolutely real.
And it's also the tale of two women who share what just might be one of the world's most uncommon friendships. And this is where our story has its prologue...many years ago.
This is Cheneta Yates. She grew up in Harlem. At first, life was good. She loved her three younger sisters. Her parents taught her the value of education and hard work. And then, when Cheneta was 12, disaster. Her parents divorced. Her mother sought solace from her pain in drugs and alcohol.
Cheneta Yates: Growing up with my mom, we were-- we were very close at one time. We-- we always-- we were like best friends. Up until, you know, she changed-- with the drugs and alcohol. And then she became very distant, kinda withdrawn. I watched her go from this vibrant, energetic, positive person, to someone else totally different. Someone I never-- I didn't even know.
It was a horror watching, helpless, while someone she needed - and loved went down. The worst moment, the one gouged into Cheneta's memory, occurred on the morning after her mom's 34th birthday.
Cheneta Yates: My sisters came in the room and it was like, "Mommy's not moving, Mommy's not moving." I didn't believe-- I didn't believe she was gone. But when I actually was able to confirm and there was no heartbeat, there was no movement. I was in shock. Hurt, angry – scared. Still today, it's still a little hard to deal with just thinking about it. Just why? I probably will never know the reason why?
It's remarkable to see what can happen to people after life's traumas beat them up. Cheneta's life could have collapsed after her mother's drug induced death. It did not. She kept on. Got her Master’s degree, became a teacher. Had a baby. In the spring of 1999, now 29 years old, Cheneta's pain still lingered, but it was well hidden, overshadowed by a life full of sense and purpose.
This, now, is North Philadelphia. Rough neighborhood, gangs and trouble. You're going to meet another woman here. Her battle was different but no less difficult.
The woman here is poor, medical problems. Her house has no running water. Not exactly the American dream.
But Linda McNeil - she lives right in there - makes do… She's an accomplished musician. And if gigs are few, she takes whatever odd jobs will get her from one month to the next.
She believes in God, and music, and her Ibanez bass guitar.
Linda McNeil: As a child I always felt-- always felt different. I kind of-- had my own inner feelings of, you know, what should be done and how it should be done. Just by myself with my own thoughts and ways. That's still pretty much till this day. It all adds up to-- no trouble for me. So (laugh) I-- it's all right.
Oh, one more thing about Linda. She's an athlete and she's tough. Maybe you have to be here. Knowing martial arts, as she does, is a good thing in North Philly.
Linda McNeil: I've been attacked several times, and and I handled the situation without hurting anyone too bad.
Linda McNeil: There was one instance where I was riding my bike. And I saw this gentleman step down off the step He had a board in his hand. And-- as I passed him, he hit me across the back. Knocked me off the bike. And-- luckily, I had my nunshakus around my neck, but they didn't fly off. I got up and-- you know, click-clack for a few minutes. And I got my bike. I had to carry it home because I bent the tire, so I had to carry it home. But he was... still alive, you know. He was pretty sore, I guess.
Linda McNeil: It was always self-defense though. I never really wanted to hurt anyone. And it was always-- it always became easier once they tried to hurt me. Then it was easier to-- to kind of retaliate, defend myself. So... I did what I had to do.
So these are the women: Cheneta and Linda.
They are very different. They live 200 miles apart.
They know nothing whatsoever of each other.
And yet they are about to interact in an inconceivable way. All because of a man: a charismatic musician. A charmer. With evil on his mind.
In the spring of 1999, Cheneta Yates had a steady job as a teacher, a beautiful daughter, a good home. Life as a single mother wasn't always easy - and she was lonely... But that at least was about to change: Cheneta was falling in love with Joseph White - his friends call him Manny - he was the drummer of the Grammy award winning R&B group, the Stylistics.
Cheneta Yates: My first impression of him very, of course, nice looking. Charming, he was pleasant. He -- He seemed genuine. He seemed genuine.
Ah, chemistry. It can make life sing. And it can be the death of us. Manny was a married man. Had two children. But Manny told Cheneta, his marriage was essentially over.
Cheneta Yates: He had told me about the fact that, you know, his wife had cheated, and how hurt he was about the relationship but he was there because he had children with her. And they weren't grown yet. That he just wanted to wait till they were of age. And then, you know, they can go their own way.
Cheneta was attracted to Manny. Was it possible for them to be more than friends? She allowed herself a sliver of emotion. Soon she was in head over heels. And so, she says, was Manny.
Cheneta Yates: He had asked me if I could be patient. And work with him through this. And that he and I could pursue, you know -- maybe marriage together.
This was serious now. Exciting. Cheneta moved from New York to Philadelphia to be closer to Manny. She met his parents, his siblings, introduced to many as his bride to be.
And then one day she discovered she was going to have another baby. And it was his. Their daughter - Cheneta and Manny referred to her as their love child - was born in the summer of 2001.
Cheneta Yates: We never in our wildest dreams imagined that we would be in that position in the first place, but to be having a child together, you know-- so it-- it was very exciting. It was-- it was-- it was a family.
But Cheneta's was a partly suspended happiness. Although many people knew of her relationship with Manny, his wife did not.
This was a waiting time. Waiting for Manny to tell his wife about his new love, about his new love child; waiting for Manny to keep his promise and leave that wife of his.
Keith Morrison, Dateline NBC: So you moved to Philadelphia to be close to him, but he already had a wife in Philadelphia, didn't he?
Cheneta Yates: Yes.
Keith Morrison: Didn't you worry about running into her?
Cheneta Yates: I wasn't focused on it, I guess.
Keith Morrison: But didn't you think about the fact that you're the "other woman."
Cheneta Yates: I didn't feel that way. I didn't feel, umm, didn't feel secondary. Because he didn't make me feel secondary. I was always with him.
And then it happened... On a winter afternoon in 2001 - Manny wasn't even there; he was on tour with his band, The Stylistics.
Cheneta Yates: He was on the road, I recall. And he was on his way back into Philadelphia. And I heard keys at the door. I was laying in bed with my kids. And I was like, "Wow, he got back kinda fast." You know, and then I turned around-- and it's his wife. She standing in the doorway of my bedroom. And I was like, "Wow." You know, and-- I was shocked. To say the least.
Manny's wife! Standing in her bedroom. And she wanted to talk.
Cheneta Yates: And so we did. I mean at this point it's like, "Well, you know, what else can I say?" You know, it's out in the open. There's no more dragging this out. There's no more secrets. There's no more, you know, hiding. So we talked. And, you know, I-- I apologized on my behalf. Because I'm not totally innocent in this too, you know. I felt, you know, bad about that. I don't think I would wish that on myself.
And here a little surprise. Too late for that wish, claimed Manny's wife. Cheneta was not the only woman waiting on the sidelines.
Cheneta Yates: It was a little hard to kinda say at that point that I totally believed her. You know-- so I kinda just said to her, "Well, you know, he's not here to defend himself at this moment.
And then, in the middle of the conversation, the phone rang. It was Manny.
Cheneta Yates: And I told him, "Your wife is here." And-- well I remember there was silence for a few minutes. And I think he was very shocked. And I put him on the phone with her.
Cheneta Yates: I was, like, overwhelmed. Overwhelmed, but at the same, relieved. I guess I was still in my little fantasy world-- thinking that, at that point, you know, we were gonna be together full steam. There's nothing that can interrupt at this point. You know, that we were gonna be able to kinda ride off in the sunset type of thing.
Cheneta's new life was about begin, or so she expected. She just wasn't seeing clearly...that it was the beginning of the end.
Cheneta Yates: Well, after he got back into town-- he didn't come stay with me -- like I thought. He actually ended up getting-- a smaller apartment. And kinda made me wonder, like what's goin' on?
Manny told Cheneta that he didn't want to take a chance that his wife would see them together, since that might give her more ammunition in court and tilt a divorce settlement in her favor. And besides, Manny said what was on his wife's mind was not a divorce at all.
Cheneta Yates: He's telling me that she wants to keep it together. And she doesn't wanna see them go their own way. He was always blaming her for not letting him go.
Manny said he wanted out. But how he intended to do that seemed to change from civilized divorce to something that sounded more sinister. A bit too sinister for Cheneta.
Cheneta Yates: He would say things like, "It would just be easier-- life would be easier if she wasn't here." I didn't think anything initially (LAUGH) about it, you know? I'm just sayin', "Okay, he's upset, you know. This is not an easy divorce. This is-- this is really a ugly situation."
Cheneta Yates: So it-- it-- it really did not dawn on me very much that, you know, he was serious. So when I said something to him, you know, he looked surprised. And-- his first statement to me was, "You would turn me in if if anything was to happen to her."
Cheneta Yates: And I told him, "Yes, I would. You'd be the first one I would turn in." I said, "Because for anyone to have that much hate in their heart, you know, they-- it-- it's not worth it. It's not worth it." And I said, "You need to-- you need to let go of that anger. And you need to move on."
Surely that was the end of it, she thought. But then she didn't really know how angry Manny was. She couldn't ever have imagined that.
It was another lean period for Linda McNeil, the musician struggling to make ends meet in North Philly. No paying gigs lately. She needed one of those odd jobs to get her through the month. A friend named Hawk came to her rescue and arranged a small construction job with a buddy of his, Al. During her few days at work, Al saw who Linda was first-hand: a tough woman, well versed in martial arts, down on her luck, poor...but certainly not one to be messed with.
Remember that movie about the six degrees of separation? Fascinating how people connect. Linda, it turned out, knew Hawk, who got her the job with Al. And Al had a cousin. And that's why, one day in August 2005, Linda’s cell phone rang.
Linda McNeil: I received-- a phone call from-- this gentleman. And I answered the call and he said, "Hi. You don't know me, but I'm Eman, or Manny. I'm Al's cousin. You know-- he's a friend of your buddy, Hawk. And-- you came highly recommended. And-- I need you to kill my wife."
It seemed that despite Cheneta's pleas, Manny's murderous thoughts had gone beyond theory.
Linda McNeil: I just knew that he wasn't playing. It just didn't seem like a joke. But I didn't really wanna talk about it at that time. You know, something just went through me. Like..."This is a bad thing."
Linda said goodbye, hung up, and wondered: why me? Why would a total stranger call me out of the blue to ask me to commit the unthinkable. Certainly she knew about her reputation as a woman capable of defending herself, but cold-blooded murder?
Linda McNeil: I personally think I got the phone call at this point because of my affiliation in the martial arts. And then I'm in a poor neighborhood, I'm broke, I need money. So basically I think, somewhere down the line, somebody got the wrong impression of me.
What could she do? This was just too bizarre. Not the kind of thing you go around blabbing about, either. Still, just the fact that someone thought she was an assassin made Linda determined to help that unsuspecting woman she was asked to kill. But how?
Linda McNeil: I tossed and turned all night. And the next morning, you know, he began calling me, you know, immediately in the mornin'. I ignored his phone calls. I just-- let the voicemail pick up. And-- I avoided him.
She called friends and family members she trusted for advice. They all told her: "don't get involved."
Linda McNeil: I felt all by myself in this. Everybody else is like, 'Well, it's not me. It's not you. So don't worry about it.'" But it's somebody.
Linda McNeil: I just felt the need to do the right thing. And the right thing to do was-- was not to turn away. It was not to ignore it because he was serious. And someone was gonna die.
And that's when someone else stepped in - just for a minute - and moved the hand of fate a little. The one person Linda knew she could turn to - a woman named Anna, who plied her trade as a spiritual advisor here on Girard avenue. Once, when Linda’s faith faltered, it was Anna who brought her back, helped her face her struggles. And now, as Linda sat with her, Anna reminded her of a prediction she'd made years ago...during those dark days.
Linda McNeil: One day I was sittin' there with her and she says, "there's gonna come a time that you're gonna save someone's life. But you're not only gonna save their life, it's gonna be-- this is gonna be a big situation."
Linda McNeil: So at this point I went down there. I went in the room. And I sat down and I said, "Anna." I said, "I got a phone call last night. This guy called me and he said this, and he asked me to kill his wife." And she looked at me. And she said, "So what do you wanna do?" So I said, "Well, I have to help her. She doesn't even know. I have to do something." She said, "Okay." She said, "This is what I was talkin' to you about."
Linda knew perfectly well that if she said "no" to this Manny person, he would just go out and find someone else to murder his wife. And once that deed is done, Linda thought, well, she did know about it, didn't she? She might be next.
Linda McNeil: I'm quite sure, once you start doin' things like that, then you have to clean up the pieces. You have to find out, "Okay, well, who else knew about it? Who did I tell? Wait a minute. I made that one phone call to her." Now, he knows more about me than I know about him. He has my phone number. He knows, you know, my name. It's not that hard to find a person.
Linda McNeil: So at that point, the next time he called me, I answered. I prepared myself to just go ahead and answer the call he said, you're not callin' me back or nuthin'. You know, I put this out there. I mean, what's goin' on? I mean, you wanna do this or what?" And I felt he was getting a little edgy. I said, "Ah man, you know, I apologize. I've been doing some things. You know, I got some other things going on. You're not the first priority in my life. And he says, well "I'm sick of this b----. She gettin' on my nerves. She just call me, I'm tired of this shit. I want her dead." I said, "Okay. Look, man, you-- you know. Don't worry about it. I got this."
Now remember. This is North Philly. Obvious though that phone call was, and alarming, there is one thing people here tend not to do: ...rat. Inform the police.
Besides, there were practical worries.
Even if the cops believed her crazy story - she'd have to prove that man's murderous intent.
She'd have to put her own life in danger.
Still. Linda had made up her mind.
Bob Kerwin: I'm a life-long Philadelphian. I love Philadelphia. I love my-- I love my Phillies. To be a Philadelphian, is to be proud. We're very passionate about everything we do. And everybody's here trying to do better. To make this city better.
Man likes his town. Detective Bob Kerwin Philadelphia Central detectives. Man's a bit of an optimist. Still when this woman, Linda McNeil, came knocking at his door and told him some crazy story about a man she'd never even met, a drummer for a famous band who wanted her to kill his wife, detective Kerwin was, he doesn't mind admitting, just a little skeptical.
Linda, after all, is from North Philly. A neighborhood whose reputation rests more on crime than on its upstanding citizenry.
Bob Kerwin: There are sections in North Philly that are nice sections. That people keep their neighborhoods nice, clean. Trying to raise their families in the right manner. But when people hear this name, 'North Philly' they hear trouble. Drugs. Crime. Shootings.
Bob Kerwin: Telling the Police anything, you know, you had to worry about- about someone coming to try to harm you. I mean, we've had it. I-- I can't sit here and say that we haven't had it where witnesses have been shot because they came forward and told the Police what happened. It has happened.
So Detective Kerwin wondered: what was this woman really up to?
Bob Kerwin: I'm thinkin' he's a drummer with The Stylistics. So I made a copy of just an individual picture of the drummer. And said, "Do you know this guy?" Just to see her reaction when I showed her the picture. Because sometimes people are trying to hide things and then you can tell when they look at a picture, and you can see it in their eyes. But, there was nothing -- she goes, "I have no idea who this guy is, period."
There have of course been cases in the past where crime witnesses have stepped forward. But in Det. Kerwin's experience there was always a catch. A quid pro quo. In his milieu it was expected: one hand washes the other.
Bob Kerwin: I had to see did Linda want something? She didn't ask for any money. She never asked, you know, can you help me take care of a case, help me do somethin', help somebody else that I know to have their case taken care of. But the more and more I talked to her, she didn't really want anything. All she wanted was to make sure somebody else didn't die.
Bob Kerwin: It was amazing, I mean I was like stunned, shocked that somebody would come in and just do this out of their kindness of their own heart. Because, you-- you know, you just-- nobody just walks in off the street and says, "Listen, somebody wants me to kill somebody." It-- it just doesn't happen.
So, the detective believed. But that, of course, wouldn't cut any ice with the DA. Can't arrest a man based on belief. Nor could detective Kerwin send some undercover cop to pose as Linda and meet Manny, and get the goods that way either. They'd already talked over the phone several times. He knew her voice too well.
And that... left only one option.
Bob Kerwin: I decide, well, Linda, you're telling me all this information. I said, "What are you willing to do to help us out?" She go-- and she says, "I'll do anything. I don't want that lady to die." I said, "You're-- you're willing to wear a wire and a camera and strike up a conversation with this guy so we can tape it?" She goes, "Not a problem. I'll do it."
Linda McNeil: It was like the only way that it could be done because he was only gonna meet with me, so that was the only way to really have proof.
Was she nervous? Well. Of course she was. Wouldn't you be? Linda was about to meet a man who expected her to kill for money. And put on an act for him and the undercover videotape. And if she faltered? If she gave something away? Detective Kerwin's parting words were a warning.
Bob Kerwin: Still had to tell Linda, "Things can go wrong. They-- really wrong. I mean, you could be in the middle of a conversation with this guy, and he might not like the way you looked at him or what words you said. And he might decide to take you out.
Even so. No going back now.
Undercover Video: The date is 8/17/05 the time is approximately 6:10. I am recording the conversation of Linda F. McNeill and the recording should start now.
Even though the wire is well hidden, the camera very small - looks like a button - it can seem to the wearer as if the whole world knows you're wired.
Thus Linda went to meet this man whom she had never seen before. This stranger who had asked her to kill his wife.
Was Manny serious?
If she could get on tape what he'd told her on the phone, police could charge him with solicitation to commit murder.
By now, detective Kerwin had done a little research on Manny. He owned several guns, and had a legal permit to carry; this mission was not without peril.
Bob Kerwin: And I told her that, you know, "When we do things like this, there's going to be a lot of people around. You won't see us. But, we'll be there. We'll be close. But, we won't be close enough if this guy at the last second pulls out a gun and shoots we won't be able to stop him from shooting you. We're not going to be that close."
Linda McNeil: Of course-- on the way to meeting him there was plenty, plenty of prayer in between. Like, "Oh God, please don't-- you know, don't let this go, you know, wrong. Just stay with me. I'm a' do this. I can do this."
Manny wanted to meet Linda here, at the intersection of Wayne and Chelten.
It was a warm August evening, there were lots of crowds on the street. Agents from the DA's office stationed themselves over there, in front of the Pathmark in the parking lot. Other undercover cops mingled with the crowds going up and down the street. And just about a block over there detective Kerwin and his partner were in their car.
Everyone was in position - waiting for the hit woman and her prospective client to appear.
Keith Morrison, Dateline NBC: So this is it. This is the Pathmark over here?
Linda McNeil: Yes.
Keith Morrison: So where was the camera?
Linda McNeil: I had the camera...the camera was a button on my shirt. I was wired up pretty well. You couldn't tell.
Linda McNeil: I actually put my bass on to have a reason to leave and not to be around him too long.
Keith Morrison: Why would that be a reason to leave?
Linda McNeil: Well, I wasn't sure really what I was walking in to. I knew that I had to get him on tape, but I also wanted to have a reason to get out of there soon, I said I have band rehearsal, I have to go, so I can't stay long. And I don't leave my bass in the car, so essentially put it on my shoulder. And it did disrupt the camera somewhat, so I didn't get as good shots as I wanted to.
At the Pathmark parking lot now, she waits.
Five minutes later...
...Here he is...the man who had called her out of the blue and asked her to kill another human being.
They shake hands.
Undercover video: "What's going on man, nice to meet you..."
It becomes clear why Manny wants to meet here. He tells Linda his wife works across the street. He leads her to an isolated back parking lot. This is where she parks her car, he says, this is the best place to kill her. Had it all planned, he said, before he decided to outsource the dirty work.
Manny (Joseph): “Normally I was gonna do it, my mother f---ing self. And I have the means too. But I said "No, I’m gonna get somebody to do this.”
Linda McNeil: And be outta town...
Manny (Joseph): While I'm outta town or wherever I'm at... Ballgame, you know what ballgame mean?
Manny (Joseph): End. End of story. You know, I want you to get so personal with this b----. This is business, this is business, you know what I mean.
Time for Linda to play her part as ruthless killer.
If she is not sufficiently believable, she is thinking, there could be trouble.
Linda McNeil: Ok, so look here. You want her to disappear or, I mean I can make her disappear altogether, they ain’t gonna find her.
Manny (Joseph): You a bad girl, hehe.
Linda McNeil: When you start finding mother-f---ers you start finding other shit then you start tracing back to who did it. So I ain't with that.
Linda McNeil: He was led to believe that he had this thug type of person, killer, murderer, so that was the role I had to play the way he would talk to me, you know, I kind of dished it back to him. So he wanted a little thuggish thing going on so that wasn't really much of a problem.
Linda McNeil: You know he said: "Look, uh, you know I want you to, you know, I want you to kill this b----. Wassup? Are you down with that? Man c'mon that ain’t no problem what the f---?" That's what you want? Look. That ain't no problem that's what I do.
Manny seems to buy Linda's act. And as he outlines the murder of his wife, his voice betrays no hesitation, no hint of doubt or moral qualms of any kind, as he recommends a fake motive: theft gone wrong.
Manny (Joseph): The only way to get through this shit is make it look like a robbery.
Linda McNeil: Like a robbery, right, I can do that. Make it look like a robbery. And no just hurt, no breakin up, you want her out right?
Linda McNeil: Ok, well there ya go.
Then, the inevitable question: how much will it cost. Before she came here, Det. Kerwin cautioned her; "Don't ask for too little. You're playing the part of a professional killer." Murder has its price.
Manny (Joseph): What's it gonna take to do this job?
Linda McNeil: What's it worth to you?
Manny (Joseph): The bottom line is I want it done and whatever we agree on, you'll get it. Simple as that I'm fine with that. But I want it done.
Linda McNeil: All right, bro. Normally something like this I do for like, five. And I usually get half before and half after.
Manny (Joseph): Consider it a stack 5. I'm probably gonna give you like 2.
Linda McNeil: That'll work.
Manny (Joseph): Then you get the rest when its done.
Linda McNeil: That ain’t a problem, cause its gonna get done.
Keith Morrison: Stack five? What is a stack five?
Linda McNeil: Stack five...that would be five-thousand dollars.
Keith Morrison: For a life?
Linda McNeil: I thought it was a large sum of money at some point, but then again I didn't think it was enough for someone's life. Nevertheless, it wasn't a problem for him to pay it. It worked out ok for him: he's like "no problem, five-thousand."
Keith Morrison: What do you think, as yourself, as the non-actor, as Linda when you walk away from that conversation -- this guy is prepared to pay you to kill somebody.
Linda McNeil: Well, pretty much, I just thought, it continued to confirm the fact that I knew he was serious about what he wanted done. Once I spoke with him in person, I knew that he was definitely serious.
Keith Morrison: Pretty chilling, yes?
Linda McNeil: Yes.
Ten minutes into the meeting, Detective Kerwin begins to relax. She's getting away with it… and she's getting the evidence.
Bob Kerwin: It was relief because we figure we got through the first part and nothing happened to Linda.
But then, a sudden alarm. A suspicious man is approaching Manny and Linda...
Linda McNeil: I see this guy in a car. He gets out. He gets out of the car and he walks halfway up the street and I'm looking at him. Something just said -- focus on this guy.
Bob Kerwin: So now it's should we stop, should we move in, what should we do?
Who is this man? Is Linda in danger?
You're watching a man create a contract for murder. Apparently unaware that the woman with whom he's negotiating is part of an elaborate sting.
So far so good. Linda had overcome her initial fear. Manny didn't seem to suspect a thing. She hoped the button cam and audiotape are rolling, recording every word of his plan for his wife's murder. But then Linda saw something...a man walking toward them, down the street. It didn't feel right. Her instinct was correct.
Linda McNeil: Out of the blue he said to the guy, "Yo, yo, yo, axe man, come here, man, come here." And the guy walks over and, I mean, he just had no expression, no -- he was just totally blank. You know, just straight-faced. And he stood there in front of me, you know, folded his arms and just stared right at me.
Manny (Joseph): Let this chick know real quick: Am I straight up with people? Am I a man of my word?
Man: A Man of your Word
Manny (Joseph): I don't f--- around. I don't f--- around. I say I'm gonna do something, I'm gonna do it.
Man: That’s what I'm saying
Linda wonders: is this meeting a coincidence? Or is it Manny's way to make sure she's the real deal. To test her reaction. To intimidate her.
Linda McNeil: And-- he said, "Tell her, tell her, man, I don't play, do I? I really don't really want nobody, you know, f--- me over because that, you know, that ain't a good thing to do. Tell her, tell her."
Linda McNeil: So I just looked at him, you know, I kind of-- I tried to step over a little bit more so the camera could get his face, but-- I didn't want to seem too weird. So I just-- I just stared him down just like he stared me down.
Inside, she is rattled. Does she show it?
Bob Kerwin: She wasn't nervous about it I said, "Wow, she'd be great in the movies," you know I thought she was a professional herself, that she actually did this for a living I mean it was amazing. I mean she had the courage to get out there and do it. And then she played that part perfectly. Like it was scripted.
Linda McNeil: So aside from the profanity, it wasn't too far away from the, you know, who I am as far as being direct and straight to the point and controlling the conversation. So that's, that's, that's … who I am. I mean I'm in control.
Manny: We're standing here too long...
Suddenly Manny and Linda are on the move. Straight towards detective Bob Kerwin's position. But before they get any closer, they turn into an alleyway. From the detective's standpoint: not a good thing.
Bob Kerwin: I couldn't see them. And when they turned into the alleyway, nobody could see them. It's a danger point. Because who knows what this guy's gonna do. He had guns. He's irrational and acting crazy...
Detective Kerwin is relieved to hear several undercover officers from the DA's office have moved into position to keep an eye on Linda. He realizes later it wouldn't have mattered; Linda had succeeded far beyond anyone's expectation. She'd gained Manny's trust - he's not afraid to show his anger...or his lust for blood. He even tells Linda how to do it. Violent stuff.
Manny (Joseph): We're gonna do a major ass whoopin’ in that one.
Manny (Joseph): Well you don't even gotta call her by her f---in’ name, you know? Just, give it up, b----! Just give it up, b----! It’s a stick up. Do her ass right there, and roll. That’s how you do it.
Linda McNeil: You got it...
Manny (Joseph): Little cut up job. Know what I’m saying? I want her shit cut - blood every f---ing way."
Cruel. Twisted. And that doesn't even begin to describe why Manny was set on the knife-job.
Linda McNeil: You said you didn’t give a f--- if her throat was cut...
Manny (Joseph): Shh, quiet. And I figure, why take the family through too much? You know at least they can have an open casket.
Manny: If I'm gonna pay a stack I want this mother-f---er to be the prettiest thing in church. I don't want no grieving, no f--- you. I want her asleep.
Keith Morrison, Dateline NBC: So what did he want you to do...to her?
Linda McNeil: Basically he asked me to cut her throat. You know, make it look like a robbery.
Keith Morrison: Cut her throat...blood...
Linda McNeil: Yes.
Keith Morrison: But...but don't mess up her face.
Linda McNeil: But don't mess up her face. So the kids can see her face, she could have an open casket, she'd be the prettiest thing in church.
Keith Morrison: What'd you think about that?
Linda McNeil: Well...that was one point that wasn't really sitting well with me. It was kind of hard to deal with that one. But I kinda fiddled around when he was talking and tried to show not too much emotion on it. But that was really...that was chilling.
Manny tells Linda that in three weeks time, he and his wife will have settled their differences in court. Strike then, he says. Settle things once and for all...
Manny (Joseph): I said look, basically you don't want me around you, I don’t want to be around you. So she's writing up this f---ing letter, we're gonna get it notarized, and then she’s going to supposedly write the f---ing courts call them...
Linda McNeil: Clear, clear everything.
Manny (Joseph): Now you follow me. Now you follow me...
Manny (Joseph): When they say it's dropped, that's all green light like a motherf---er for me. Then I'll be like, "you ready to make your money? You ready to make your money!"
Keith Morrison: What do you think he would have done to you if he'd figured out you were double-crossing him.
Linda McNeil: Well, he would have tried probably at that point to, maybe, make some sort of move one way or the other, but that would have been really interesting.
Keith Morrison: That would have been a mistake on his part.
Linda McNeil: Yeah. I would say so.
Keith Morrison: Your defense would have been robust, as they say.
Linda McNeil: Surprise is the ultimate weapon.
It certainly is. And there's a surprise coming. A big one.
Kill date? Set. Price? Agreed. Method of murder? As clear as the Philadelphia sky. All Linda, the hit woman, needs is a photo of the target. Manny has one with him.
Linda McNeil: Well you gotta give me a picture.
Manny (Joseph): Nah, no. Never that. Cause I gotta keep that. Never that.
Linda McNeil: You can make a copy.
Manny (Joseph): Never that.
Linda McNeil: Let me get a real good look at this then man, if you're not going to give it to me...
And right there. That is one of those moments. It is the birth of something.
Linda McNeil: I looked at the picture and I saw-- I saw innocence. I felt-- I felt something. I felt almost like you-- you know-- somebody that I've-- I've known or knew before and-- and-- you know-- like in another life or something.
Linda McNeil: OK, and what's her name?
Manny (Joseph): Well, I call her Che.
Linda McNeil: Che? Just Che?
Manny (Joseph): I call her Che.
Che? Linda doesn't know it, of course. But you do. This is not Manny's wife. This is his girlfriend. This is Cheneta Yates.
He doesn't want to kill his wife. He wants to kill the woman we know who has been waiting for him to divorce his wife and marry her. And now the love of her life is trying to hire a hit woman to end her life?
To understand this rather surprising turn of events we have to take you a couple of years back - to the beginning of 2002, a few short weeks after Manny's wife confronted Cheneta in her apartment. Manny, as you might recall, did not come to live with Cheneta and their daughter as she had expected, but instead got an apartment of his own and seemed to be preparing for a protracted divorce battle with his wife.
Cheneta Yates: I kinda just said to him, you know, "Well, maybe we should just take a break. Sort this out that way, without me being a distraction at this point. But that's not something that he wanted to do. He was very, very adamant on, "No, you know, there is no break. I'm gonna handle this."
But before long, Cheneta noticed some changes in Manny's behavior.
Cheneta Yates: He was becoming-- a little more insecure, a little more curious about any male around me. If I had-- planned to go somewhere-- or to do something, you know, there was 1,001 questions behind, "What? Where? When? Who?"
One day Manny called Cheneta at work. She was new - the company operator, a man, didn't yet know her by name. But he did once Manny described her: "oh yes," the operator said, "the lady with the nice smile."
Cheneta Yates: Oh my God. All I know is I got this phone call. I pick up the phone and there's yelling in my ear. And-- and he's going on and on, "See? You know, I told you about your smiling. You're too friendly. And you're flirting. And now you got guys looking at you because you're smiling."
Cheneta Yates: I got off of work and, lo and behold, he's outside (laughs) sitting by my car. And I'm like, "What is goin' on?" He's upset. And of course I don't wanna have this confrontation in the street, you know? But he did. So, I mean, he got a little aggressive and kinda tried to push me out the way of the car so I couldn't get in. And, oh boy.
Cheneta Yates: That was the very first time I've actually seen him act like that. It was frightening. Because I can see there was a lot of rage in him, and there was a lot of anger. And I didn't full understand why. So it kinda-- it made me nervous. I-- I-- I suggested at that point, you know, that we started goin' to counseling.
Counseling didn't help. Cheneta sank into a depression. And discovered, in the midst of the emotional chaos, that she was pregnant again. And Manny didn't seem so excited this time. Their second baby was born in March 2004, and after that Cheneta started drinking. Which of course was just what her mother had done when she was depressed.
Cheneta Yates: I did kinda think back a little bit from the childhood stage of watching my mom deteriorate, and-- becoming withdrawn, and using that as a crutch, you know, or as an escape. I kind of felt myself at one point heading in that direction.
It was August 2005. Six years of ups and downs. Six years of hopes created and destroyed. Enough, said Cheneta, time to take control of my life. She broke the news to Manny in her living room: it was over.
Keith Morrison, Dateline NBC: So where were you?
Cheneta Yates: I was sitting right here on the couch actually.
Keith Morrison: And him?
Cheneta Yates: He was on the steps.
Keith Morrison: Over here like this.
Cheneta Yates: Yeah, he was sitting on the steps, basically.
Cheneta Yates: He was not a happy camper 'cause I, at that point, was done. I was done with the drama, I was done with the craziness of his behavior.
Keith Morrison: What he do?
Cheneta Yates: Most of the time just talked. And whenever I would try to speak of course, he would cut me off. He didn't want to hear anything I had to say.
Cheneta Yates: During the course of that conversation, he became very, very upset. It was like watching a whole other person transform in front of my face. It-- I don't even know if I can describe in words how he changed-- but it was very scary. I almost felt like I-- I almost felt like I was seeing Satan myself.
Manny had a gun. Cheneta had asked him several times not bring it around the children, but there it was. First on top of the television, then on the table -- as Manny continued arguing with Cheneta. He was working himself into a frenzy. Cheneta was scared. She picked up the phone to dial 911...
Cheneta Yates: Takes my phone out of my hand and then he pulls the gun out and points it at my head. And he stood right there. I heard the (NOISE) trigger, I guess, go back. And oh my God, terrifying. And he basically was like, "before I even let you do that I'll do what I have to do first, and then I'll call."
Cheneta Yates: I just prayed. I cried. I prayed. I prayed very hard, you know. Because I didn't know who in the world this person was anymore. I just felt so violated. I felt vulnerable. I felt that there's no way in the world he can honestly love me to do somethin' like that. I felt-- I felt very alone, you know?
Suddenly Manny got dizzy. Slowly he sat down.
Cheneta Yates: He asked me could I get him a soda.
Keith Morrison: And you did.
Cheneta Yates: Yeah, I did.
Keith Morrison: He had a gun pointed at you. And you got him a soda.
Cheneta Yates: I was scared, confused but a bigger part of me, I guess, didn't want him locked up. Didn't want to see him hurt. It's strange, but I mean, the only thing I kept thinking was...this is the father of my kids.
The next day, Cheneta says, Manny seemed overcome with remorse. He repeated again and again how sorry he was for threatening her with that gun. But somehow, what might have been a truce flared again. All the anger again. That was it. Cheneta took out a restraining order against Manny.
And you know what happened next. That's when Manny called Linda and asked her to kill...a woman he said was his wife.
And now? A simple arrest could end it. But that wasn't quite how it happened. Oh, the police were ready. But were they prepared for a car chase through the streets of Philadelphia?
And, oblivious to everything - Manny's plot against her, the police effort to catch him - Cheneta was not safe at all...
Manny White had pulled a gun on his girlfriend Cheneta Yates and threatened her life. Linda's undercover tape proved his murderous intent was not just a moment's passion.
The DA issued a warrant: arrest the man. The charge - solicitation to commit murder.
But then, a complication: Manny's mother died. And they scheduled the funeral service for the very day police intended to take him down. And so they decided they'd have to arrest him after the cemetery service, the burial service which would be held just over there around those trees.
Ok that should work. Except now they had another problem: the police had not told Cheneta about Manny's plan to have her killed, fearing she might inadvertently tip him off before they had a chance to arrest him. Now they discovered she would be coming to the funeral, she was close to Manny's mom. He wouldn't try anything at a public event, all those people around, would he? Or would he.
The very morning Linda had taken a call from Manny. He was waiting for Cheneta to arrive at the church for the service. And he was very angry.
Linda McNeil: He called me and he was furious. Before I got off the phone with him, she pulled up and he said, "Hold on, hold on. I want you to hear, I want you to hear this b----. I want you to hear her talk, she just makes me sick."
Linda McNeil: And they're arguing, so she pulls off. And he said, "You see what I'm talking about? You know, she just get on my f---ing nerves, this b----. I want her dead today. I'm going to meet with you today after the funeral and I'm giving you some money. You've got to deal with this.
A man in that state of mind, Linda thought, was capable of anything. She called detectives. And they promptly added more units to the task force assigned to arrest Manny and protect Cheneta.
Lt. Richard Brown was in charge...
Lt. Richard Brown: We were going to keep Mr. White under total surveillance the entire time. We were going to keep Ms. Yates under surveillance the entire time. We had 18 detectives involved in the operation. They were given pictures of Mr. White and Ms. Yates. Everybody knew where we'd be going for the funeral, where we'd be going back. Nothing was left to be chanced.
Lt. Richard Brown: The best-case scenario is that the burial will take place. We would then take Mr. White into custody away from the rest of the individuals and away from the cemetery.
Lt. Richard Brown: The worst-case scenario is Mr. White does something crazy. What he could do is flip out. And there's always that possibility and then we would have to take him into custody no matter where he would be.
Shadowing Manny was easy. He rode in the white stretch limousine that lead the procession to the cemetery.
Cheneta followed in a separate car.
Lt. Brown got his people into position at the cemetery.
Richard Brown: The weather conditions today are the same as the day of the burial. It was cloudy, rainy early in the morning. Then we got a break of sunshine as the funeral proceeded into the cemetery. The cars parked here, and they went into the office. We had two detectives in an undercover capacity as workers stationed over there, to keep and eye on the vehicles as the mourners went to the gravesite.
Officer Lawson and Officer San Amalo were part of a four-person team that-- not only were at the funeral, in the cemetery, to keep an eye and protect the target, but also in the church. They took part in services to make sure nothing would go wrong inside the church.
Detective Kerwin and his partner were between the breaks of the building. They were in contact with the district attorney's office, which was where Linda McNeil was.
Bob Kerwin: Everybody got out of their cars and proceeded up to this area over here by the tall trees to the grave site.
And then, as the burial service began, detective Kerwin noticed a man leaving the group of mourners who had assembled around the grave...it was Manny.
Bob Kerwin: And he went into the vehicle, came out with something in his hand but from the distance I could not tell exactly what it was and I actually called up top to the other detectives to say 'Can you see what he has in his hand?' Now, we're going, "Great. He’s getting a gun, he's gonna take her out at the cemetery." But then, as he was walking back he raised something up. When he put something up against his face, I knew it was a cell phone.
Linda McNeil: He called me and he was aware that there was police at the funeral I walk down the street, I'm looking at this car, it's these two cops in a Ford Taurus, man. Che has these detectives up in here watching me, and you know, disrespecting my mom's funeral. I wanna deal with this b---- today.
Bob Kerwin: Linda called me and told me that she just talked to Mr. White. So I knew that phone call he made was to Linda. And she started telling me he was a little paranoid, he thought that Cheneta must have the police there after him.
Bob Kerwin: You never really know what somebody's thinking and especially on a day like that when you have a loss of a loved one, We you don't what they're thinking. And we didn't know what would tick somebody off and at the one split second he'd just go crazy and just start shooting. Even though we had people there, we didn't want anybody - not just Cheneta - but we didn't want anybody hurt.
And then, relief. The burial service ended. No trouble. The white limousine pulled out of the cemetery.
In just minutes Manny would be under arrest... The danger, over.
Except...sometimes all the precautions in the world are not enough.
The chase was on.
The white stretch limousine navigated rush hour traffic along Philadelphia's Roosevelt Boulevard.
Behind it: several units of an undercover task force. They struggled to stay close, avoid detection. Once they reached the agreed location, they'd stop the limo, and arrest one of its passengers: Manny White, alleged to have solicitated an undercover hit woman to kill his girlfriend.
Now, nerves tight, they were just minutes away.
And then it happens...
Bob Kerwin: I get a phone call. And it's from the guys that were following the limousine. And they tell me they lost the limousine. I said, "Are you kidding me? You've got to be kidding. I went nuts. I said, "How could you lose the limousine?" I said, "You had two teams following this guy, how could you lose the limousine.
Lt. Richard Brown, driving several blocks behind the arrest team that lost Manny, got a detailed explanation:
Lt. Richard Brown: The limousine made a quick move from the outer lane to the inner lane and hit this underpass. And we're coming up on it right here as you can see. There's heavy traffic. And all of a sudden the limo jumps here where the red light is. In there and through the underpass. And our guys are stuck up here at the red lights. Now that gives him the opportunity to go to another-- half a mile underground. It's rush hour traffic. And he's got a clear sailing down the boulevard for the next six, seven blocks.
Lt. Richard Brown: So now a lot of things have to be done real, real quick. 'Cause he's unstable. We know he's capable of anything. And we have no idea where he's at. So our threat level went up a couple of a notch at that point.
There was one person who could find out. Since the operation started, Linda - stationed at the DA's office - had already spoken twice with Manny.
Linda McNeil: So I called him on the phone and he answered. He thought nothing of it. I said, "Yo, man, what's up? Where we goin' meet at?" No, I'm gonna have to give you a call back later, I have a little problem here. Oh-- well, what's going on, man? No, the cops, you know, they around everything, you know.
Linda McNeil: At the time that I was talking with him, he began to get a little berserk and he was like--if I have to, you know, you know, he said, you know, I got to do what I got to do.
Bob Kerwin: Linda's telling me he's really-- out of it. He's just going crazy. He wants it done now. He's tired of waiting, he-- he's gonna have to do whatever he had to do. I said, "Linda, we lost the limousine." I said, "I don't know how we lost it, but lost it." And she says, "Well, he's not even in the limousine."
That's right. She knew because Manny told her. He switched cars. The police were chasing the wrong one. Were the cops losing control?
Bob Kerwin: I mean, we had Cheneta protected. We had people following her. We had people at her house. But you just never know.
If anything happens... If anyone's hurt... The buck stopped with lt. Brown.
Lt. Richard Brown: I'm thinking, alright, what else could he be doing? Where could he be going? I'm trying to put myself in his head. What's he trying to do.
Lt. Richard Brown: At that point I have to worry about Mrs. Yates. I have two teams with her. But I want to get another team up to her, to protect her. And we want to make sure the house is safe before she arrives home.
So basically what I did was I-- I came up along side of her, took the rear, right here on the boulevard. And then the car that was behind her then took the front to slow down her traffic. We also had another car that was just to right and rear of me. We want to slow traffic, so she can't get to the house until I have enough teams there. And this was the best way to do it. We had her protected. There was no way anybody could get to her.
And then, just as suddenly, it was over. A group of detectives, spotted Manny arriving at the funeral reception. They arrested him without incident. And when Det. Kerwin arrived, there was Manny in the back of a police car in handcuffs.
It was a moment. It seemed auspicious. Detective Kerwin addressed Manny by his official, given name.
Bob Kerwin: I walked over. I opened the door and said, "Joseph, you're under arrest. He says, "What am I under arrest for?" I said, "I'll tell you later. There's no need to tell you right now."
Cheneta returned to her house with her kids, still oblivious, unaware that her car had been trailed by police, that her house was under a watch, that she had been the target of a murder-for-hire scheme.
Cheneta Yates: I was making sandwiches for the kids, the next thing I know, at my back door, there were five police officers, detectives. And I'm like-- "What-- you know, what is going on?" Like they scared me.
Lt. Richard Brown: We took nothing for granted. Cause we did not know if he hired somebody else. I mean you have to think of the worst scenario. There could have been somebody else in the house.
Cheneta Yates: And then that's when they-- told me that he's been-- detained for hiring someone to try to kill me. (CHUCKLE) I thought it was a joke at first. I-- I-- I swore I was in a dream.
Linda got the call at the DA's office. Surprisingly, she says, she didn't feel elated or gratified, not yet at least. The realization that she had saved someone's life, that she had done the right thing, would only come later. For now, she was just relieved she didn't have to listen to that awful voice at the other end of the line...time and again, asking her to kill.
Linda McNeil: At that point I knew that with the tape and everything he wasn't a threat to her anymore, you know. And so I kind of felt a sense of relief like it was all over All those phone calls every night stopped and they finally got him I was relieved enough to finally get a good night's sleep.
Back at the house Cheneta was in denial. How could she not be. Even though her relationship with Manny had gone sour...she was still the mother of his children, still the woman to whom he'd confessed to loving time and time again, as he sought forgiveness for the gun incident just a few days earlier.
Lt. Richard Brown: When we told her that we had her under surveillance the entire day, cause we had taken this so serious, I think that's when it really, really, kicked in. And she realized that we were with her, we were at the funeral, we were at the burial site. You could see the expressions on her face change from, like, "no, this can't -- what are you guys talking about? This isn't real. Come on, he wouldn't do this to me," to "oh, this is really for real he's really out to kill me."
Cheneta Yates: I mean I-- I-- I almost fainted. I-- I-- I-- couldn't believe it. I just-- I-- I couldn't comprehend it. I-- this is stuff I see on T.V…Not me. No. No.
Yes, and sometimes love is truly blind. Time to learn who the real Manny was.
Here in this little house in Philly, to which she'd moved to be close to the man she loved, Cheneta Yates struggled to understand a no-longer comprehensible world.
How could she have missed it? How could she have been so deluded? The father of her children, her intended husband, had hired an assassin to cut her throat?
Cheneta Yates: For a long time, I was in shock. I couldn't think straight. I just could not believe this-- was taking place. And-- and it just really, really-- pissed me off that he had the audacity to even contemplate what he contemplated. He was gonna take me away from my kids.
What a fool, she thought. Six years she'd given him. And sat there sweetly and believed his lies and betrayals and empty promises. But now her eyes could see… and what they saw…
Cheneta Yates: Found out he really did not file for divorce, but it-- it was really his wife. I found out that that he wanted to salvage the marriage, he was working on trying to keep them together and telling her that he wanted to be with her. And running back to me and telling me something different.
Remember the time when Manny's wife told Cheneta she was not the only woman who Manny... "Kept on the side." Blinded by love, she didn't believe her then. Now, Cheneta looked through Manny's stuff, she found letters, photographs. A woman in Japan. Another one in Chicago.
Cheneta Yates: And of course now everyone who has any type of knowledge of what was really going on, now they're telling me, "Well, you know, he had women around town. And I didn't really wanna get involved." And-- I'm like, "Wow. (chuckle) No one wants to get involved." Had I been dead-- you know, what-- what then?
Cheneta Yates: Looking back is very hard to (chuckle) make sense of it, to be quite honest. And even as I'm talking about it, I'm just-- sitting here saying to myself, "Did I actually live that life? Did I actually go through that experience?" I mean I value the fact that, you know, I'm educated. I'm supposed to have good sense. I just didn't use good judgment. I made a lot of decisions that should not have been made-- based on-- (sigh) I wanna say how my heart felt.
At Central detectives headquarters, in the interrogation room with Det. Bob Kerwin, Manny had his own kind of revelation.
Bob Kerwin: We've sat him in our room and we read him his rights. Told him exactly what he was being charged with. And he was like real aloof. He thought it was a big joke I said, "No, I'm serious. You're being charged with solicitation to commit murder."
Bob Kerwin: He goes, "What are you talking about?" I said, "Listen, we have you on tape. We have you on video." And then at some point, we showed him part of the tapes just to show him that he was there having a conversation with this woman, Linda. I said "that is you, right?" And he goes, "well, I don't know if that's me." And I said, "Oh, is it you evil twin?" you know. But he says, "No, that's me. But, you know, I was just playin'. I was just playing along with her.
Linda had played the part of hit woman so perfectly that at first Manny refused to believe that she was anybody other than the cold-blooded killer he had met that day at the intersection of Wayne & Chelten.
Bob Kerwin: I mean, he goes, "Linda, what about her? I said, well, she's with us, you know. I said, "She's not the person you thought she was. He just couldn't believe it. I think he was so far backed up into the corner, that he had no way of getting out now. Even though he was trying to say, "you know, I’m with the Stylistics, I don't need to do all this." I said, "That's what I thought at first. But obviously, you aren't who you think you are either."
At his trial Manny insisted he never meant what he had told Linda. He blamed his action - so detailed on videotape and cell phone logs - on the mental stress of his divorce, his mother's illness and subsequent death, even on pain medication he had been taking at the time. But Manny's defenses did not hold up. He was convicted, sentenced to four and a half to ten years in prison.
Cheneta was saved. The DA, the cops, all did their jobs and did them well. But ask detective Kerwin how a life was spared and justice was accomplished...and his answer is unequivocal.
Bob Kerwin: I mean, you know, Philadelphians are strong, determined, stubborn sometimes, very passionate. I mean, when you get something in your heart that you really believe in, you step forward and you take care of it. You don't sit back and wait for somebody else to do something. And that's what Linda did. She had the passion, she wanted to save that lady, Cheneta, and she came forward and she did it. And I'm proud of her for doin' it.
But our story is not over. There was one more revelation to come when Cheneta finally met the woman who saved her life.
Cheneta, as you can imagine, took a pretty active interest in the investigation of Manny's crime. And when police told her she had been saved by a woman she had never met...well, who could believe it?
Cheneta Yates: I found out about Linda through the police. They didn't tell me her name. (sigh) They just said-- said a woman had come forth. And she had been wearing a wire and surveillancing with him, and turned him in. And all I could think was like, "Oh my God." (laughter) Like, "Wow."
Cheneta went to court determined to look into the eyes of the man who had deceived her all those years, who had wanted her dead. And one day, during the preliminary hearing, the detectives told her there was someone they wanted her to meet.
Linda McNeil: And-- and they introduced us, and that was-- that was really something because I walked up and she said, you know, the one detective said, "This is, you know, the woman who saved your life."
Cheneta Yates: And I just-- I just gave her a big hug. I-- I-- I-- (sigh) I couldn't do anything else but give her a big hug. I was-- I was very thankful, you know?
Linda McNeil: It was really-- it was really-- it was really emotional there for a minute. And then that's when I-- you know-- I guess that might have been, you know, like really the first time that I-- I started to feel like I might have done something-- you know-- good.
Keith Morrison, Dateline NBC: What happens when you two get together, she laughs?
Linda McNeil: Yeah pretty much.
Keith Morrison: You tease her right?
And there they are. The woman who Manny wanted dead and the woman he hired to kill her. Friends now.
Cheneta Yates: People used to ask me, aren't you afraid of her?
Keith Morrison: Of Linda? No kidding!
Cheneta Yates: They couldn't understand, well how did he select her out of all the millions of people in the world, her. So naturally most peoples thoughts are gonna be 'well she must have been doing something because its just too weird that he would contact her out of all people. So I used to get that quite a bit. You know, how could you befriend her, and my response would be how could I not? How could I not?
Linda McNeil: So this is what people think. Until the situation knocks at their door, they're like I don't have anything to do with it. But when it does show up at your door, you're crying and your begging and and you want anybody and everybody who's seen anything to come forth but umm. You know in order to have friend you have to be a friend.
Keith Morrison: What goes around, comes around.
Linda McNeil: Exactly, that's all that matters.
Manny will not be eligible for parole until 2015. But they will have to deal with it, and him, one day.
Linda McNeil: Well, I don’t think about whether he's gonna be released or not be released. He's really not a threat to me at all, as far as I'm concerned. On a spiritual level, I feel as though I did what I was supposed to do, I did what I should have done. And not only saving Cheneta's life but also but his as well. Because he could be serving a life sentence if someone else would have carried this out.
Regardless of his crime, Manny is still the father of two of Cheneta's children, and her fear is that the man who tried to have her killed will demand to be part of her daughters' lives.
Cheneta Yates: I would prefer he gives them some time to mature to grow, let them become young women, become the people they need to be. And then at that point, let that be their decision.
Cheneta Yates: I don't talk about him negatively to them.
Keith Morrison: You don't talk about him negatively?
Cheneta Yates: Not to them, no.
Keith Morrison: That takes some doing.
Cheneta would like to believe she'll find real love one day...but then, that's what she thought it was the last time.
Cheneta Yates: I don't want to say you can't trust anyone but you need to be cautious. I think when you see the signs, I don't think they should be ignored. 'Cause most of the time people will give you clues. You should pay attention to that. Pay attention to what your gut is telling you. It's not usually wrong.
And besides, there are other kinds of enduring friendship.
Keith Morrison: You're old ladies sitting. In rocking chairs on the porch. You still call each other once in a while?
Cheneta Yates: Definitely. "Hey Linda how you doing? How's your knees doing?"
Linda McNeil: Definitely. I got some new teeth, I’ll come pick them up. [both laughing]
Which brings us to one last, small detail. Minor, perhaps, when lined up against all the bizarre events Cheneta had survived. But not so small for her.
The recognition of Manny's betrayal had flattened her emotionally, had sucked the light from her life. She tried to process what she'd learned... And felt the familiar tug of anger, loneliness, sadness... Those very emotions that almost drowned her when she found her mother dead on the couch so long ago.
And then... Well, it's how our story ends.
Cheneta Yates: When I had an opportunity to meet Linda-- At first it didn't sink in-- what her name was. And then I stopped. And I said, "Oh my God. Her name is Linda." I mean it was eerie. It was coincidental. It was just weird. Like, "Wow. My mom's name is Linda." There's no words how I felt inside when that happened. I felt protected again. I felt-- I didn't feel alone anymore. I-- I really felt-- you know, I felt blessed. I really did. I felt blessed.