30 years after wife’s ‘suicide,’ husband charged with manslaughter

Thirty years after James O’Neil reported his wife’s death as a suicide, he has been charged with shooting her in the head.

The 83-year-old Lake Worth man was arrested Thursday on a manslaughter charge after a long-held secret between him and his daughter finally came out.

In July 1987, O’Neil called deputies to his home on Osborne Circle. Deputies found his wife, Verna, shot and O’Neil hysterical and hyperventilating in the kitchen, still talking with a 911 dispatcher.

Beside him on a table was a Taurus .357 Magnum Revolver, according to a police report.

O’Neil told deputies that he and his wife argued about her burning his dinner and her excessive drinking. He said Verna wanted to kill herself, grabbed his gun and put it to her head. The two struggled and the gun went off accidentally, shooting Verna in the left side of her face, he said.

The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner ruled that the manner of death was “undetermined.” But Sharon McGee, the O’Neils’ daughter, never believed her father’s story.

Last October, McGee confronted him. He admitted there had been no struggle for the gun, McGee told detectives. Instead, he pointed the gun at his wife and shot her in the face, the daughter told a detective.

McGee said O’Neil recounted the couple’s argument but said he managed to snatch the gun away from his wife and then asked her what she wanted, according to the report.

She responded that she wanted to die, and James said, “Let me show you how it is done,” the report said. James told his daughter the shooting was an accident.

Later that night, James sent his daughter a text saying “I’m believing that you will sleep much better tonight, Love Dad,” the report says.

McGee couldn’t keep the secret and went to deputies in late February. A detective interviewed James on April 4. He said he argued with his wife and grabbed the gun away from her, but as he did his finger hit the trigger and the gun fired, the report said.

In another interview, James said he was still upset and angry with his wife when he shot her, the police report said. He also said he was negligent about how he was holding the gun, a detective wrote.

James O’Neil’s attorney, Michael Salnick, declined to comment on the case, as did his current wife, Doris.

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