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Palm Beach County man, 83, arrested for killing his wife 30 years after her death, deputies say

Posted at 12:04 PM, Aug 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-11 16:38:33-04

Deputies arrested a Lake Worth man Thursday for shooting and killing his wife 30 years ago, according to a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office arrest report.

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James O’Neil, 83, is charged with manslaughter with a firearm.

Investigators initially ruled Verna O’Neil’s 1987 death a suicide. Her husband, James, told deputies she threatened to kill herself while the two were arguing about “her excessive drinking” and their burnt dinner on July 23, 1987.


O’Neil said he struggled with his wife as she placed a gun near her head when the gun discharged, striking her in the left side of her face, the report states.

Verna O’Neil was rushed to JFK Medical Center where she died from her injuries.

A question over her mother’s death remained for Sharon McGee, the report states. McGee told investigators she confronted her father on Oct. 28, 2016.

O’Neil admitted to arguing with his wife that night, McGee said in the report. He said Verna pulled out a gun and threatened to kill herself.

O’Neil told McGee he took the gun away from her and said, “let me show you how it is done.” He then shot his wife, investigators said.

McGee said O’Neil apologized for killing Verna and said it was an accident. She said he asked his daughter to keep his confession a secret.

McGee went to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office on Feb. 24, 2017, and told detectives her mother’s death was not a suicide, but rather her father had shot and killed her mother.

Detectives spoke with O’Neil at his home on April 4, 2017. He said he took the gun away from Verna when she was threatening to kill herself when the gun accidentally discharged, the report states. Detectives said he told them he lied during his previous interviews because he did not want to get into trouble.

The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's Office changed Verna’s manner of death from undetermined to homicide.

O’Neil told a Palm Beach County judge Friday he married his current wife, Doris, in 1988. Doris told the judge she does not fear her husband coming home and therefore doesn't need a no-contact order with him.

Court records show James and Doris’s marriage was the third marriage for both of them.

The judge set O’Neil’s bond at $50,000 and said once he is released, he will be on house arrest with an ankle monitor.