Oklahoma Innocence Project Files Petition for Post-Conviction Relief

Discovers newly found evidence of Willard O’Neal’s innocence in 2001 Tulsa murder

(OKLAHOMA CITY – July 1, 2015) – The Oklahoma Innocence Project (OIP) recently filed a brief in support of post-conviction relief on behalf of client Willard O’Neal. Newly discovered evidence uncovered by the OIP supports O’Neal’s innocence and was documented in a brief filed in Tulsa County in June.

Bruce Chamberlain was killed on December 23, 2001 outside his bar, the Trapeze Lounge, and Gildardo Rueda was injured. The state’s case rested on witnesses who gave false testimony and a ballistics expert who improperly testified regarding a gun that was mishandled by two law enforcement agencies. As a result, O’Neal was convicted of one count of first-degree murder and one count of shooting with intent to kill and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In the brief filed by the OIP seeking post-conviction relief, the Project outlined substantial evidence not presented at trial, on appeal or in O’Neal’s initial post-conviction application. That evidence includes:

  • An individual (not O’Neal) was involved in the crime and solicited other individuals to help carry out a robbery at the Trapeze Lounge
  • That individual fabricated a false story implicating O’Neal
  • That individual was bipolar and taking prescription meds at the time O’Neal was falsely implicated
  • Deals were given to witnesses in exchange for testimony, which were not disclosed to O’Neal
  • Alternative suspects existed but were not investigated
  • O’Neal was home with three other individuals at the time of the murder; an alibi that was not presented at trial
  • Evidence was improperly transferred, stored and repaired by multiple police agencies

“My client had an alibi at the exact time the crime was taking place and the DNA evidence at the scene was not attributable to Mr. O’Neal,” said Christina Green, O’Neal’s attorney and interim legal director at the Oklahoma Innocence Project. “To make matters worse, the state withheld DNA and other evidence from my client’s original trial attorney, in violation of his 14th amendment right to due process. As a result, he was wrongfully and ultimately convicted. The fact that the state failed to disclose all of their evidence, as requested by Mr. O’Neal’s original defense attorney, is a miscarriage of justice that should be rectified.”

There are several common causes of wrongful convictions including improper forensic science, informants and inadequate defense, all culpable in O’Neal’s conviction. Since statistics on exonerations have been kept, there have been 29 Oklahoman’s wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit, who were subsequently released from prison.

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ABOUT THE OKLAHOMA INNOCENCE PROJECT

The Oklahoma Innocence Project (OIP) officially launched in August 2011. The Project is dedicated to identifying and remedying cases of wrongful convictions in Oklahoma. Bringing together Oklahoma City University School of law students to work with attorneys and the director, the OIP pursues only cases in which there is credible evidence of factual innocence. For more information, visit innocence.okcu.edu.