A Tulsa man was sentenced Friday to life without parole for the second time after the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals kept intact his 2013 murder conviction but granted him a resentencing.
A jury had found Gregory Antwon O’Neal, 31, guilty on Aug. 19, 2013, of child-abuse murder in the 2007 death of 2-month-old Tianna O’Neal.
District Judge James Caputo sentenced Gregory O’Neal on Sept. 23, 2013. However, the appellate court handed down a 3-2 decision last April that ordered the judge to reconsider the sentence because a prosecutor had used a doll during closing arguments to demonstrate abuse that might not have contributed to Tianna’s death.
Tianna died May 18, 2007, at a Tulsa hospital after suffering a skull fracture and subdural hemorrhages. O’Neal and Tamara Matthews, the baby’s mother, were both arrested on child abuse complaints but eventually were released without being charged “pending further investigation.”
Nearly four years later, in March 2011, they were charged in connection with the baby’s death.
Matthews, 30, pleaded guilty in 2014 to a charge of permitting child-abuse murder and received a 10-year sentence. On April 25 last year, Caputo modified Matthews’ sentence, reducing her time in prison to five years.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections records indicate that she is due for release in May 2019.
In criticizing prosecutors’ use of a doll during O’Neal’s trial to simulate abuse inflicted on Tianna, the appellate court wrote, “We cannot condone theatrical demonstrations of speculative theories, which are calculated to encourage an emotional reaction from the jurors.”
The judges agreed with O’Neal’s contention that he had ineffective trial counsel and said that if his attorney had objected to the demonstration, there was a “reasonable probability” that he could have received a different sentencing recommendation from the jury.
Court records indicate that O’Neal on Feb. 6 waived his right to have a jury oversee his resentencing, leaving the decision up to Caputo. During a hearing Friday, Assistant District Attorney Sarah McAmis — who prosecuted the case along with Ben Fu — said O’Neal “is not and should not be entitled” to a life sentence with the possibility of parole.
“This defendant could have and should have accepted responsibility and shown an ounce of remorse,” McAmis said. “This father again and again brutalized his own baby, and to this day he only cares about himself.”
She detailed injuries to Tianna’s body that were shown in numerous photographs and said O’Neal’s behavior after Tianna became sick from her injuries was not consistent with how an innocent, loving, caring father would have reacted.
O’Neal has denied killing the infant.
His attorney, Marny Hill — who did not represent him at his trial — said Friday the state’s arguments are a “transparent attempt to appeal to sympathy and outrage, which is exactly what the state did at the original trial.”
“He is still a person that is worthy of at least consideration for an opportunity for parole,” Hill said, noting that O’Neal would be at least 70 by the time his case came up for review. “The minimum sentence is still his lifetime in prison,” she said.
After Caputo announced the sentence, Hill told him that O’Neal wished to waive his right to further appeal the case.
Although the jury in 2013 recommended that O’Neal pay a $10,000 fine, Caputo reduced the monetary punishment to $500 plus $150 toward the victims’ compensation fund.