By Deb Murphy

Fresno resident Melissa Neylon was scheduled to do an inspection at the Inyo County Jail for her employer Fire Life Safety Inspection on December 4 and ended up getting a more intimate look at the facility until she posted bail on the 18th.

Inyo Sheriff

Sounds like one of those you’re-not-going-to-believe-this stories? It was, for Neylon, her husband Shawn and mother Nenita Balbin Smith. Here’s what happened:

As part of the standard procedure before her tour, Neylon’s prints were taken by Lifescan. The prints matched up with a Melissa Chapman, wanted in Dearborn County Indiana on a 2004 identity theft charge. Oops.

According to Inyo County Sheriff Bill Lutze, Neylon was detained when the department was alerted to a “possible hit.” Her prints were scanned a second time, the hit was confirmed and the hard cards forwarded to Dearborn law enforcement. Inyo was alerted to the active warrant and Neylon was held until her court appearance December 18.

Back in Fresno, Shawn Neylon sprang into action to prove his wife was not Chapman, had never even been to Indiana much less stolen somebody’s identity. He came up with a time card at his wife’s former employer in the Bay Area, dated and certified by her boss on the day Chapman was stealing identities. He tracked down Chapman’s former husband who confirmed that, yes, his ex-wife was in Indiana committing the crime on the date and time Neylon was in San Francisco. There was also paperwork that Chapman had given birth in 2002, three years after Neylon had her tubes tied following her third child. Shawn Neylon was even aware of a possible death certificate on Chapman.

According to Shawn Neylon, his wife has gone through multiple Lifescans as part of her job as an insurance agent. No connection to an outstanding warrant ever showed up.

The court appearance in Independence was simply to verify that there was probable cause to hand Neylon over to Indiana authorities for extradition. Shawn Neylon had some hope his wife would be released when Judge Brian Lamb started his decision with the statement that a person can’t be in two places at once. Unfortunately for Neylon, the Lifescan and photos of the two women that showed a vague resemblance outweighed the information to the contrary. But, Neylon was released on $50,000 bail with a January 13 re-appearance date, presumably to be taken to Indiana in handcuffs.

The media in Fresno had a two-week field day with the story, even tracking down Chapman’s mother who said her daughter had died two years ago. Dearborn law enforcement’s stance was that Chapman was a master at identity theft and were more than skeptical with anything Shawn Neylon or the Fresno ABC affiliate came up with.

Then, last Tuesday, Dearborn contacted Inyo County Sheriff’s Department and said the hard copy of the prints didn’t match and Neylon won’t be back in Independence, or Indiana for that matter, any time soon.

According to Inyo’s District Attorney Tom Hardy, his staff’s responsibility was simply to present probable cause at the identification hearing. “Dearborn County was basically ‘in charge’ of the proceedings,” he stated via e-mail. Lutze said his department followed the procedures for Lifescan hits. “We did our due diligence,” he said adding that the chances of an erroneous Lifescan were roughly 1 in 100,000. The unanswered question now is what are the chances of an erroneous identification based on Lifesscan in Dearborn County.