Family of solved cold case murders seeks closure

By Jena Johnson - bio | email

CENTER, TX (KTRE) - The Center Police Department made an arrest on a 16-year-old double homicide on Friday. Darran O'Neal, 45, was arrested and charged in the deaths of his brother, Effrem O'Neal and his brother's friend, J.W. Hewitt. O'Neal bonded out of the Shelby County Jail Sunday morning.

The O'Neal family tells KTRE their lives have been ripped apart by the murders.

"Everything we did, we did together," said Dennis O'Neal, brother. "That's why this was such a shock to me."

Dennis O'Neal said he lost both of his brothers 16 years ago. His brother Darran is accused of murdering their other sibling Effrem in February 1993 on Garrett Street in Center.

"The good thing is, I know Effrem is at peace, he has been at peace for 16 years," said O'Neal.  "Darran... I lost him at the same time, because you know, now, to me...he's dead."

O'Neal said Darran was angry at Effrem after Darran's wife claimed he sexually assaulted her.

"If she was actually raped, they went about it the wrong way," said Det. Joey Haley with the Center Police Department.

"Instead of going to the police, she told Darran, that's when he made the statement, that, 'yeah, I'm going to kill him,'" said O'Neal.

He said, he didn't think Darran would kill their own brother. According to Det. Haley, Darran shot Effrem three times and J.W. Hewitt once. Haley said Hewitt was simply at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

"You could tell just by the crime scene that whoever was there and did this, did this because they were more angry at Effrem than they were at J.W.," said Det. Haley.

O'Neal said his brother Darran hasn't been in contact with family since Effrem was killed. He questions why it took 16 years to find the missing pieces to solve his brother's murder.

"The original investigator died right after the murder happened," said Det. Haley. "It was a very solvable case, it just got shoved to the back."

While Dennis is still looking for closure, he said there'll always be a part of him missing. "There's always an empty space, you know, just the memories."

Although Darran O'Neal bonded out Sunday morning, Det. Haley believes O'Neal is a flight risk. If he is convicted, O'Neal faces up to two life sentences.

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