A Fort Worth firefighter arrested earlier this month on a murder charge in Arkansas was the target of a robbery attempt, and authorities will not pursue any charges against him, a prosecutor said Monday.
Garland County, Ark., prosecuting attorney Steve Oliver said that the murder charge against Shea O’Neill, 40, of Benbrook was dismissed Friday.
“He acted in self-defense,” Oliver said Monday. “They had planned to rob him.”
O’Neill was beaten over the head in the Nov. 8 attack near Hot Springs, Ark., that left Eston Hogue, 23, of Hot Springs dead. O’Neill was initially arrested and charged in the fatal stabbing of Hogue.
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But Garland County sheriff’s deputies now believe that Hogue, Anthony Thomas, 28, and Sally Jackson, 24, conspired to rob O’Neill. Authorities arrested Thomas on Thursday and Jackson on Saturday.
With no charges against O’Neill, an internal investigation by the Fort Worth Fire Department has been closed, spokesman Tim Hardeman said in a Monday news release.
“Firefighter O’Neill is assigned to an administrative position until he returns to work,” Hardeman said.
Hogue was stabbed in the neck on the night of Nov. 8 just outside Hot Springs, according to Garland County Sheriff’s Department reports. Authorities learned of the stabbing when Hogue and two other people arrived at Mercy Hospital Hot Springs about 10:20 p.m. Hogue later died.
O’Neill had been found about a half-hour earlier near where Hogue was stabbed, investigators reported. He was trying to flag down motorists and was bloody. He had apparently been hit on the head.
Those involved gave different versions of what happened.
O’Neill told investigators that a woman offered him a ride and while he sat in the front seat, two men hiding in the back repeatedly hit him in the back of the head, according to reports. After being hit 10 to 15 times, O’Neill told investigators, he pulled out his gun to defend himself but was disarmed. The two men were later identified as Hogue and Thomas.
“O’Neill says he then took out his knife, lunged in the direction of the attackers and cut one of them,” sheriff’s Lt. James Martin has said. “O’Neill says after the struggle the three individuals left him on the side of the road.”
The suspects, however, told investigators that they were in the truck and had pulled onto a side road to relieve themselves. O’Neill and a man in the back seat were arguing when O’Neill lunged from the front seat toward the man, the occupants told investigators.
But investigators now believe that O’Neill was the target of a robbery.
Suspect changes story
The turnaround in the case came Nov. 13, when Jackson was re-interviewed by investigators about the attack.
On that day, Jackson told deputies that she had lied to investigators in the hours following the death of Hogue, according to Garland County sheriff’s reports.
The Hot Springs woman told authorities that she and O’Neill had been in a relationship for a few months, but she had ended it. She told authorities that O’Neill traveled to Hot Springs to try and make up with her.
Jackson told deputies that she met O’Neill for dinner at a restaurant on Nov. 8.
Jackson agreed to meet with him later that night. Jackson then drove and picked up Hogue and Thomas, who hid in the back seat of her Ford Excursion. She had told them that O’Neill carried a lot of money, and they could rob him when she picked him up, the reports stated.
Jackson told deputies that she heard Hogue say, “He’s got a gun,” according to the reports. Thomas pulled out his own handgun, pointed it at O’Neill and yelled at the firefighter, “Give me all you got.”
Jackson then picked up O’Neill, drove a short distance and pulled off a road outside Hot Springs, telling the Fort Worth firefighter she needed to go to the bathroom, according to a sheriff’s report. Once she stopped, Hogue attacked O’Neill, who was in a front seat, and the two wrestled onto the ground.
Hogue took O’Neill’s gun, but at some point O’Neill brandished a knife and stabbed Hogue, according to the reports.
Hogue, Thomas and Jackson jumped back into the vehicle and drove off, leaving O’Neill on the side of the road, deputies said in the report.