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Man sentenced to 20 years for cutting his wife

The sentence will follow a 20-year sentence he is already serving for other crimes.

By BILL COATS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 31, 2002


The sentence will follow a 20-year sentence he is already serving for other crimes.

TAMPA -- For attacking his wife with a box cutter, Jim O'Neill is likely to be in prison until he's in his 70s.

O'Neill, 37, received a 20-year sentence Wednesday, far short of the potential maximum. But Circuit Judge Rex Barbas specified that the 20 years begin after O'Neill completes a 20-year sentence he already is serving, for a sequence of crimes he committed in Pasco County the same night he repeatedly sliced his wife's face.

"Over 30 years of practicing law, I have seen very few cases as egregious as yours," Barbas told O'Neill.

Danita O'Neill, her face laced by deep scars from the attack, said she was "almost delighted" at the sentence.

"I feel secure that he won't be able to hurt me anymore," she said.

The hearing lasted nearly five hours, in which she described a six-year relationship of escalating abuse. She left her husband in August 1999. He attacked her at her home in Lutz on May 1, 2000, amid arguments over their divorce and custody of their son Liam, now 5.

Despite a series of surgeries, Ms. O'Neill, 35, said she encounters "a lot of double-takes, a lot of open mouths, a lot of gasps" in public.

"I feel like a freak," she said softly, looking at Barbas. "I feel ugly. I feel ineffective dealing with people. I don't think I'm as employable as I was before."

Jim O'Neill testified that he had long been diagnosed as manic/depressive, but had quit taking his medication months before the attack, thinking his wife had canceled his health coverage.

He and his family expressed regret over the attack. But O'Neill and his mother repeatedly expressed bitterness about Ms. O'Neill. After apologizing to his wife, O'Neill turned toward Barbas to say, "I truly loved her. But she treated me with such venom over those months."

His mother told her daughter-in-law from the witness stand, "We're very sorry for your damage, Danita. But perhaps if you'd been a little bit nicer, it never would have happened."

After Barbas announced his decision, O'Neill's father and estranged wife did agree on one point: "It's basically a life sentence," James O'Neill said. "He'll probably die in prison."

-- Bill Coats can be reached at 269-5309 or coats@sptimes.com.

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