But on Thursday, a contrite O’Neil, breaking into tears at one point, urged Superior Court Judge Alex Hernandez to reduce his sentence so that he can go free.
“The last time I was in this courthouse I had nothing to show for myself, I led a very selfish life. I failed to understand the value of life,” O’Neil told the judge. “I can’t change my past but I can try to make up for what I’ve done.”
The judge did not rule Thursday on O’Neil’s request.
O’Neil’s lawyer, Emma Rotondo, told the judge that her client was 16 when he was accused of the murders. She said while in prison he earned his high school degree and began a program mentoring other inmates.
One of those inmates was Tino Negron, who was sentenced to 50 years in 1988 for fatally shooting a Bridgeport man while trying to steal the victim’s microwave oven. Negron was released 20 years early.
Negron, who now works as a research assistant at Yale University, admitted some trepidation coming back to the same courthouse where he was convicted and sentenced. “I know what it smells like downstairs in the lockup,” he said.
“But I promised Yellow when I got out that when he got a chance to tell his story I would be there for him,” Negron told the judge. “Change is possible and we are here to do it together. He (O’Neil) will excel and go way beyond the things I have done.”
Returning to the Fairfield County Courthouse for the first time since he retired as Bridgeport state’s attorney in February 2020, John Smriga told Hernandez that he had agreed when he was top prosecutor to give O’Neil permission to request a sentence modification after meeting O’Neil during a tour of the Cheshire Correctional Institution. He said he was impressed with the progress O’Neil had made.
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“If you look at his crimes this is not an application that typically would be signed but I felt at the very least he deserved the right to present himself today,” Smriga said.
But Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney C. Robert Satti Jr. disagreed with his former boss. He said the crimes call for the courts to “lock him up until he’s dead.”
Satti pointed out that there has been no contact with the families of the victims to determine their opinion on O’Neil’s request for an early release and he questioned the claim that O’Neil was just 16 when he committed the crimes, pointing out that O’Neil used various alias at that time.
He urged the judge to continue the hearing so that Hernandez could review additional records in the case.
“I am very seriously considering your application,” the judge told O’Neil. “I felt your sincerity but attorney Satti was right, there are a few issues that need to be explored.”
The judge continued the hearing to Sept. 16.