(KYTX) - Ricky Neal, Junior sits now in the Smith County Jail sentenced to life in prison. He shot and killed 23-year-old Chris Mass last year at the Broadway Square Mall in Tyler.

Neal has reached out to CBS 19 for an interview. This is the first time Neal has talked with anyone other than his attorney and police about the case.

Neal asked to do an in person interview at the Smith County jail, but we were told that because of security issues, we could not go inside the jail. So Monday, Ricky Neal called CBS 19's Courtney Friedman.

Neal admits he fired the shots that killed 23-year-old Chris Mass that day in February, 2013.

"Do you regret shooting Chris Mass?" we asked Neal.

"No, I honestly believe that had I not took the action that I took, I wouldn't be here. It would be my family at a funeral. It would be my kids without a father," Neal responds.

He says Jonathan Dews and Chris Mass cornered him outside the mall that day and that his actions were in self defense.

"I believe in no shape, form or fashion that I murdered anybody," Neal says. "I am sorry for the turn of events but I felt like I had to protect myself, and as far as I know, that's never been a crime."

He believes he was portrayed as a gang member during trial.

"It wasn't gang related. I don't know these people," Neal said in the interview.

"Then why did you shoot Chris Mass if you didn't even know him?" we asked.

"Because he came outside with Jonathan Dews. They were outside threatening me. Chris Mass had reached into his car. When he reached into his car, I figured he was reaching for a weapon," Neal said. "That's when I fired my shots. I saw the one hit him in his chest. I saw that immediately. I went to grab my phone to call 9-1-1 because I felt like the threat was no more."

Neal says he does have one regret, and that's not speaking during the trial.

"Why did you not choose to testify during the trial?" we asked.

He says, "The judge basically told me that if the state raised the issue that I was a gang member he wouldn't give me a self defense instruction, because by law if you're a gang member, you can't claim self defense. Well I'm not a gang member. They have no proof of that. All they have are pictures of tattoos I got when I was young."

"And you're not a gang member?" we asked.


"Were you before?"

"No," Neal says. "There was a time in my life when I thought about it because I was running a rough path but I never committed to anything of that nature."

These were things Neal kept to himself during his murder trial, which ended in a guilty verdict, and a life sentence.

Ricky Neal is still being held in the Smith County Jail, and we have been told he will probably be transferred to prison in Huntsville within the week.

Neal has requested an appeal to his trial. He has been appointed a new attorney, who has already filed for that appeal.

CBS 19 also got an exclusive interview with Chris Mass's family after Neal was sentenced to life. His family says the life sentence is what they were hoping for -- and serves justice for Chris. Chris Mass leaves behind two young children.

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