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Drug dealer in court on murder charge

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By Damon Lawrence

Convicted drug dealer Ralph O’Neal was arraigned for first-degree murder in Roane County Criminal Court on Monday.

He’s charged with the August 2007 murder of Ronnie Dean Cofer.

Sporting dreadlocks, O’Neal entered the courtroom in handcuffs and dressed in a striped jail uniform.

He pleaded not guilty to the murder charge.  

O’Neal’s legal troubles date back years.

He was indicted on federal drug charges in 2008.

The case went to trial in December 2009.

 O’Neal was found guilty on nine counts, including conspiracy to distribute cocaine and crack cocaine and distribution of cocaine within 1,000-feet of an elementary school.

A federal judge sentenced him to life in prison on June 9.

O’Neal, 36, had been serving as his own attorney in the murder case, but was represented by Robert Vogel at the arraignment.  

Vogel said they will be filing pretrial motions, something O’Neal has been active in doing while incarcerated.

One motion asked that the case be thrown out because the grand jury foreman was white.

O’Neal is black.

In another motion, O’Neal claimed his right to a speedy trial was violated.

The next court date in the case is Aug. 5.