High-profile defendant pleads guilty to drunken-driving

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Prosecutor vows to seek maximum for Sean O’Neill Jr.

By Kathleen Brady Shea Managing Editor, Unionville Times

Sean O'Neill Jr.

After a Chester County Court judge heard the facts to support a guilty plea – the defendant admitted he drove drunk, careened off Westtown Road in his Cadillac Esplanade, traversed a lawn, and crashed into a garage on Thanksgiving – he shook his head this afternoon.

There must be more to the story, Judge William P. Mahon suggested. Otherwise, he could not explain the disproportionate number of courtroom spectators who had been waiting more than five hours for the proceeding to begin.

Chester County Assistant District Attorney Marilyn Seide provided the answer: The defendant, Sean O. O’Neill Jr., is a high-profile offender whose legal travails – and those of his family – began on Sept. 1, 2006.

That was the day that O’Neill Jr., now 23 and living in Delaware County, fatally shot Scott Sheridan, his friend and Cardinal O’Hara classmate, at an unchaperoned drinking party at the O’Neills’ Willistown Township home. Although O’Neill Jr. was charged as an adult, his attorney, Vincent P. DiFabio, successfully argued that he belonged in juvenile court, where he completed two residential treatment programs before being released in 2009.

The investigation into Sheridan’s death prompted a search of the O’Neills’ residence that led to a federal firearms conviction for Sean O. O’Neill Sr., 51, an undocumented immigrant and former Delaware County pub owner. He was deported to Ireland last year after serving an 18-month jail sentence.

Another of the family’s three children, Roisin O’Neill, 26, is serving a 5-to-10-year prison term for a Sept. 19, 2008, fatality. She admitted driving drunk in the wrong direction on the Blue Route in Plymouth Township, causing a crash that killed Patricia Murphy Waggoner, 63, a grandmother from Brimfield, Mass. The O’Neills’ youngest child has been cited for underage drinking.

DiFabio acknowledged the family’s troubled past, which has generated media interest; however, he pointed out that O’Neill will be sentenced for “a first-offense DUI” and faces a mandatory-minimum sentence of 72 hours in jail. His blood-alcohol level was 0.258, more than three times the legal limit, court records said.

Seide said she would seek the maximum penalty of up to six months in prison when O’Neill is sentenced at a later date. O’Neill was on bail for a disorderly conduct charge in Delaware County when the crash occurred, she said, adding that O’Neill hit the garage with such force that both cars sustained damage and one was totaled.

In addition, she said every time O’Neill appears in court, the Sheridan family has to relive their loved one’s tragedy. Scott Sheridan’s mother, Sue Sheridan, was among the people who waited hours for the plea.

The hearing had been scheduled for the morning – before the judge was scheduled for jury selection in an unrelated case – but had to be delayed because the defendant, who arrived more than half an hour late, said he and his mother, Eileen O’Neill, could not find a parking spot.

Both attorneys said they would prepare sentencing memorandums for the judge. After the proceeding, DiFabio said he would detail the family history over the past two years, chronicling inordinate stresses. “He has been back in treatment,” DiFabio said.

As O’Neill exited the courtroom, Mahon offered some advice: “I wouldn’t get in trouble again.”

“I won’t,” O’Neill responded.

Seconds later, Sheridan pointed to the seats the O’Neills had just vacated, leaving behind a bottle of vitamin water.

“Your client left his trash on the bench,” she said to DiFabio, adding “so appropriate.”

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