Richland County Sheriff's Department stands by O'Neal allegations

Published: Aug. 5, 2014 at 11:12 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 15, 2014 at 10:57 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Just a week ago, Douglas O'Neal was declared a free man after serving 24 years of a life sentence cut short.

While he has his freedom, he is not free of suspicion. Investigators from the Richland County Sheriff's Department still believe O'Neal was the man responsible for multiple murders including the death of an unidentified woman only known as "Chris" back in 1988. O'Neal was also charged with the killings of two other women and three-year-old Tierra Washington.

"I pulled the file back out of archives," Richland County Chief Deputy Dave Wilson said. "I probably hadn't seen the file in 20 years. I looked at the file. I was still convinced we had the right guy."

O'Neal won parole, at least in part, due to the intervention of Jim Morton. The former assistant solicitor helped prosecute O'Neal only to decide later the case was built mostly on unreliable testimony from key witness Alice Whetstone.

"These are kind of like a historical case where you develop information from people and then, you have to develop information from the people that run in those circles," Former SLED agent Larry Gainey said. "And then go about the business of corroborating what the person says. And oftentimes, it's with another person that runs in those circles. So, it's difficult."

There wasn't much forensic evidence for the Sheriff's Department to tie O'Neal to any of the murders. DNA technology so common today was in its infancy at the time.

Whetstone's testimony became the cornerstone of the state's case. Even today, the department says Whetstone is not retracting her testimony.

"Looking at all the facts," Gainey said, "what we have and what we had developed at the time pointed towards Doug O'Neal."

Whetstone even called the Sheriff's Department, according to Wilson, to tell him she never lied during her testimony in O'Neal's two trials.

However, one of O'Neal's defense attorneys said he also got a call some years ago from a woman identifying herself as Whetstone. In that call, attorney John Delgado says that woman said the exact opposite stating O'Neal had nothing to do with the killings.

Delgado says he could not confirm the caller's identity.

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