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Another delay in seven-year-old O’Neal murder case

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By Damon Lawrence

A missing key witness has delayed the Ralph O’Neal murder case.

“We’ve had a subpoena out for her since Feb. 27,” Assistant District Attorney General Bill Reedy said. “She has been nowhere to be found, despite almost weekly attempts to locate her.”

O’Neal is charged with first-degree murder in the August 2007 death of Ronnie Dean Cofer. Reedy said Pamela Smith, the key witness, was with Cofer the night before his death.

O’Neal was scheduled to stand trial on April 9 in Roane County Criminal Court, but the trial was postponed because Smith wasn’t available to testify.

“We had no choice,” Reedy said. “Two of our other witnesses who were going to testify were involved as accessories after the fact.”

Cofer’s body was discovered in a ditch on Clax Gap Road. Roane County Sheriff Jack Stockton said Cofer had been shot.

O’Neal was indicted by the Roane County grand jury on June 8, 2009. He’s been scheduled to stand trial multiple times, but the case has been repeatedly postponed.

“The only reason we had to move for a continuance is the absence of that witness,” Reedy said. “The prior times it’s been set for trial and continued have all been on the motions of the defendant, not the state.”

The case was continued until July. O’Neal is in custody at the Roane County Jail. He was sentenced to life in prison on federal drug charges in 2011.