Patriots daze

The ugly legacy of the late-'80s Pats gets even uglier
By MATT TAIBBI  |  May 27, 2009


Ever heard of Eric Naposki? Probably not. He played linebacker for the Patriots in the late 1980s. Remember those years? Remember Reggie "One Yard" Dupard? Remember Hart Lee Dykes? Remember watching Raymond Berry pace the sidelines, glaring at Marc Wilson, wondering if he could find a quarterback to complete two passes in a row? Remember Steve Grogan having to re-attach both his arms after every drop-back? Man, those were good days.

And Naposki was part of them. A small part, mind you — he signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 1988 and played in just four games over two seasons with the team. An entirely forgettable player. This past week, though, he was arrested for something that will stand out in your memory: a murder-for-hire case from 15 years ago.

The big mistake that Naposki, 42, made was getting involved with a Double Indemnity cliché — a social climber Orange County skank named Nanette Packard McNeal. In the early 1990s, McNeal hooked up with a Southern California millionaire biotech developer named William Francis McLaughlin, whose great claim to fame was developing a machine that separates plasma from blood. McLaughlin eventually started supporting McNeal and her two kids. Then, in 1994, someone broke into McLaughlin's house and shot him six times while his son was upstairs listening to music. McLaughlin was then worth $55 million, and had left McNeal just $150,000 of it in his will.

Apparently, McLaughlin wasn't the only guy McNeal was involved with at the time. Police now say that Naposki (who worked as a bouncer at a nightclub near McLaughlin's house) was also sleeping with her, and that the two teamed up to off the millionaire and get McNeal's inheritance — plus a $1 million life-insurance policy she had on him.

The cops never found the murder weapon, although Naposki and McNeal were named as suspects soon after the crime occurred. McNeal was later arrested for having written hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of checks against McLaughlin's account. She eventually pled guilty to stealing $500,000 from McLaughlin, and did a year in jail.

The murder case, meanwhile, went cold until last week's arrest. The police have not said what their new evidence is. McNeal is maintaining her innocence, but this whole thing stinks. Give Naposki 96 points for a murder for hire with the victim's son in the house. This is just below Rae Carruth territory.

Meanwhile, from the same roster . . .
Sort of amazing that this happened at the same time, but one of Naposki's teammates — one much better known — was also arrested recently. You probably do remember John Stephens — the Pats' top draft pick from 1988 was the offensive rookie of the year and made the Pro Bowl. Stephens had been something of a surprise selection, having come from the obscure school Northwest Louisiana State (now called Northwestern State). But he's one of the few Patriots draft picks from that era who made good on the choice.

Dude was a pretty excellent back, a big bruising power runner who gained 1168 yards his first year. He sort of fell off the face of the Earth after that, though, and no one could ever figure out why. In the next season he averaged under four yards per carry and was shortly afterward dispatched to the wilds of pre-Favre Green Bay.

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