Suspended Crawford County Coroner Allen O’Neal pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of violating his oath of office.
A judge sentenced him to 10 years on probation and barred him from seeking or holding elected office, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Early voting began Monday in Crawford County, where O’Neal is listed on the ballot. He’s seeking re-election against Sheldon Mattox and Arnold Walden in the Nov. 8 election.
As conditions of his probation, O’Neal must notify the county elections board that he’s withdrawing from the race within 72 hours and remove his campaign signs, according to his plea agreement.
Sentenced as a first offender, O’Neal won’t have a felony criminal record if he completes his probation without incident. If he violates the terms of his probation, he could be issued a new sentence, possibly one including a prison stint.
Contacted after the plea hearing, O’Neal’s lawyer, Michael Chidester, said, “He’s glad to put all this behind him.”
O’Neal, 63, was arrested May 6, 2015, and indicted about a month later on allegations that he didn’t respond to a May 2, 2015, death call and then fired a deputy coroner because he did respond. Gov. Nathan Deal later suspended O’Neal while his criminal charges were pending or until the end of his term, which expires Dec. 31.
Robert Cody, one of O’Neal’s deputy coroners, has been serving as acting coroner since May 11, 2015.
The death call came nearly a year after O’Neal filed a lawsuit against Crawford County, asking the county to provide him with an office, car and other items or money to do his job.
A judge later dismissed the suit, saying it lacked merit, and ordered O’Neal and Bonnie Michelle Smith, the lawyer representing him in the civil case, to reimburse the county more than $100,000 in legal fees. O’Neal and Smith have appealed the issue to the Georgia Court of Appeals, where the matter still is pending.
O’Neal was set to stand trial beginning Monday in Harris County with jury selection. Judges from the Macon Judicial Circuit, which includes Crawford County, disqualified themselves from the case, and the trial was later moved to Hamilton, a town north of Columbus and near the Georgia-Alabama line.
Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke said, “I’m glad we could resolve this and put it behind us. Now it’s time for the community to move forward.”