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Published: Thursday, 1/31/2008

O'Neil guilty for her role in incident that led to killing in '05 shooting

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Janelle O'Neil consults with lawyer Ron Wingate at the Lucas County Courthouse. Janelle O'Neil consults with lawyer Ron Wingate at the Lucas County Courthouse.
JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge

Janelle O'Neil admitted to Toledo police just days after the Sept. 9, 2005, shooting death of a man in the Port Lawrence Homes that she "knew something was up" when her husband asked her to drive to the complex, a Lucas County assistant prosecutor said yesterday.

More than two years later, she was found guilty in Lucas County Common Pleas Court of robbery and obstructing justice for her role in the incident that led to the death of Robert Lee Smith. She now faces up to 10 years in prison when sentenced March 11 by Judge Frederick McDonald.

Originally charged in April with complicity to commit murder and complicity to commit robbery, both with gun specifications, O'Neil pleaded no contest to the lesser charges as part of a plea agreement.

Assistant Prosecutor Jeff Lingo said the agreement was made because of "evidentiary concerns."

O'Neil, 22, of 316 Troy St., was arrested last year, nearly eight months after her husband, William O'Neil, was acquitted in Smith's death.

Authorities accused her of driving Mr. O'Neil and another man, Lawrence Thomas, to the complex where they planned to rob Smith, who was known to the men as a drug dealer.

Mr. Lingo said yesterday she stayed in the vehicle and later admitted she acted as a "lookout."

"She saw Lawrence Thomas, who ultimately was convicted of aggravated murder and aggravated robbery, run past the car," Mr. Lingo said. "William O'Neil returns and gets into the car. He said that the robbery had gone bad, and that Lawrence Thomas shot and killed Mr. Smith."

Mr. Lingo said O'Neil drove her husband to an abandoned house on Stickney Avenue, where he hid the gun, an action that led to the obstruction charge.

O'Neil's attorney, Ronnie Wingate, declined to comment after the hearing.

In August, 2006, Mr. O'Neil was acquitted by a jury of aggravated murder and aggravated robbery. His wife, who is a mother of five, refused to testify at the trial.

A month later, a jury found Thomas guilty of the charges. He is serving a sentence of 30 years to life in prison.

Authorities said Smith was pronounced dead in his apartment at 830 14th St. He had been shot twice in the chest.

Yesterday his family left Judge McDonald's courtroom relieved that what began with Smith's death more than two years ago was nearing completion.

His younger sister, Wanda Smith, and his daughter, Tamica Smith, recalled him as a giving man who was raised in poverty and helped the youngsters in the Port Lawrence complex.

They said that Smith was "not a bad person" despite being portrayed in court as a drug dealer.

His daughter said that she is often approached by members of the community who remember her father and miss him.

"I don't even care what they went for," said Ms. Smith, 26, of the men who shot her father. "He would have given it to them. He wouldn't have resisted."

She added that she can forgive but will never forget.

And although O'Neil faces time in prison, she will always be able to hug her children, Ms. Smith said. That's something her father is no longer able to do.

"They can wake up every day to each other," she added. "That was taken away from us."

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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