Fort Worth

Trial begins for ex-Fort Worth firefighter accused of punching older man

A former Fort Worth firefighter accused of sucker-punching an elderly TCU football fan faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted during his trial this week.

Shea O’Neill, 43, was arrested in April 2015 after he and an Arlington man, James Woods, then 78, had a heated exchange about O’Neill’s children playing on the railing at Amon G. Carter Stadium. The argument ended with a punch being thrown, according to authorities.

TCU police later arrested O’Neill on a warrant accusing him of injury to the elderly, a first-degree felony.

“There were numerous ways this situation could have been dealt with,” prosecutor Dawn Ferguson told jurors in her opening statement Monday. “Force is not justified upon a verbal altercation alone. James Woods sat down, and you cannot hit someone when they sit down.”

Woods and his wife, then 71, attended a free TCU football game on April 10, 2015, that ended spring practice. They sat near the railing in the handicapped area of the stadium’s student section, Ferguson said.

Ferguson told the jury that children were playing loudly in front of them, making it hard to see and hear the game, and, despite gentle protests from Woods’ wife, they refused to move.

After 30 minutes, Woods told the children to move, sparking a heated argument with O’Neill, who said that if anyone is going to yell at his kids it would be him, Ferguson said.

Woods sat down as the argument intensified. When Woods looked over his right shoulder toward O’Neill, he was suddenly knocked out of his seat, Ferguson said.

“O’Neill hit [Woods] so hard he saw stars,” Ferguson said.

Woods had a nosebleed, several damaged teeth and facial bruising from the blow, Ferguson said.

Dr. Phillip Cordell testified Monday that he patched one of Woods’ front teeth so it would not injure his lip, but Woods has four or five other teeth that still need work. Cordell estimated that repairing the damaged teeth would cost about $10,000.

Jim Shaw, who is defending O’Neill, got Cordell to acknowledge that Woods is no longer in pain, and can chew and swallow despite the damage.

But later Cordell characterized the damage to Woods’ teeth as a permanent disfigurement.

“Those teeth are broken until they are fixed,” Cordell said.

If he is convicted, O’Neill is eligible for probation or a minimum of five years in prison, Shaw said.

Testimony is expected to continue Tuesday with visiting state District Judge Jerry Woodlock presiding.

This includes information from Star-Telegram archives.

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3