A Dundalk man was convicted yesterday of the brutal 1993 slaying of Jeromia O'Neal, the elderly mother of an award-winning local television cameraman.
Warner Hill, 50, who had been a tenant of O'Neal's, bludgeoned her to death with a 30-pound construction jack during a robbery, a city Circuit Court jury found. Jurors took an hour and 15 minutes to convict Hill of first-degree murder and robbery with a deadly weapon.
"This has put closure on it now, finally," said Pete O'Neal, the victim's son, who wept when the verdict was read. "To know exactly the person who did it, even though they suspected him for years -- yes, he was the person who did it. It's a relief. The jury has put its stamp on it."
Hill, who worked at odd jobs at the time, had been renting the third floor of Jeromia O'Neal's three-story East Baltimore rowhouse for about two months when he robbed her of about $300, according to court documents. He was looking for heroin money, prosecutor Donald Giblin said.
Police had struggled for months to make an arrest despite little physical evidence, Giblin said. They tracked down Hill after a witness came forward last year with new information: Hill had been seen with unusual coins much like those that Jeromia O'Neal, 74, once wore pinned inside her blouse.
The coins had turned up missing after the robbery, Giblin said.
Another witness then admitted she overheard Hill confess to the murder just after it happened on March, 13, 1993, Giblin said.
Detectives arrested Hill in June 1995.
Pete O'Neal, who has worked for WMAR-TV (Channel 2) for more than a decade, found his mother's body, her head crushed, in her ransacked home in the 1200 block of N. Caroline St. in East Baltimore.
An only child, Pete O'Neal was very close to his mother, he said, visiting her several times a week and repeatedly urging her to move in with him and his family.
Police investigators from the Cold Case Squad had known Pete O'Neal for years because he covered dozens of crimes as a television cameraman. The probe into his mother's death touched on personal and professional bonds with local detectives, he said.
At least one Cold Case detective was present in the courtroom yesterday about 12: 45 p.m. when the jury returned its verdict.
Defense attorney Leslie Stein declined to comment. "I still think about my mother every day," Pete O'Neal said. "I miss being able to go over to her house. This Monday was my 38th birthday, and every year we had a tradition, she used to give me that number of kisses on my birthday every year. She would call and say, 'Come by the house so I can give you your kisses.'
Sentencing is scheduled Oct. 1.
Pub Date: 8/15/96