Man paroled after serving 24 years for crime not committed - FOX Carolina 21

Man paroled after serving 24 years for crime not committed

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

Douglas Clayton O'Neal's fate was seemingly decided on June 12, 1991.

As a 31-year-old man, O'Neal, a man prosecutors called a pimp and a serial killer, was found guilty by a jury of his peers for the second time for murder.

The case against O'Neal was built primarily on the highly questionable testimony of Alice Whetstone, an admitted hooker and drug addict.

"I think there were some fact that she knew about the murder that no one could have known unless they were there," said Barney Giese in 1991.

As word of O'Neal's life sentence spread, emotions boiled over outside of the Richland County Judicial Center.

But the sheriff's department and solicitor's office got it wrong.

After serving 24 years in a correctional facility, O'Neal walked out prison into the arms of family and friends as a free man.

At one point, O'Neal didn't think this moment would ever happen. That all changed when Mary Stewart came to visit him about two years ago. Stewart took an interest in O'Neal's case and starting gathering information that included admissions by Whetstone and another witness.

"I started researching and interviewing and I took five cases to innocence projects and they turned me down," Stewart said. "And I said 'What do I have to do?' They said 'Go find the witnesses. Go find the people that testified.'"

It turns out Whetstone made it all up to save herself after being taken into custody in connection with the 3-year-old girl's death.

Stewart took everything she discovered to former assistant solicitor Jim Morton. A month ago, Morton notified members of the State Parole Board that O'Neal spent 24 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit.

Today, O'Neal says he is not angry or bitter. That, in itself, may be the most remarkable part of the story.

"I've been through that stage and it didn't help me any," O'Neal said. " So, you know, I thank God. Because of Him, I was able to get through that. And I no longer feel that bitterness anymore because, you know, that's a killer. Bitterness will really kill you."

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