Enforcing the law

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Reporters note: This is the sixth in a series of articles about elected officials in Oregon County.

OREGON COUNTY -- The prosecuting attorney position in Oregon County is held by Fred O'Neill.

It is a part time position but the prosecutor has two full time employees in his office at Alton. They are Becky Shelton and Jennifer Matt. The prosecutor's office is located on the second floor of the courthouse at Alton.

"A prosecuting attorney in Missouri has to be licensed to practice law in this state. They have to be at least 21 years old and a resident of the county at least 12 months," O'Neill said.

"My job as a prosecutor is to prosecute criminal cases that occur in the county. Most of the cases in my office come from the sheriff's department and highway patrol, because they are the ones doing the investigating," he said.

O'Neill said a large portion of his work load in Oregon County involves prosecuting and collecting funds from people who write bad checks.

"We also deal with many cases of domestic assault, drug offenses and theft crimes," he said.

O'Neill said he does not have a private law practice away from the prosecutor's office. He said in many cases it causes conflicts.

"My job allows me to farm and spend more time with my children," O'Neill said. He and his wife Kim, who works as a pharmacist in Poplar Bluff, have two children Alex, a junior, and Jessie, a first grader, both at Couch School.

O'Neill himself is a 1982 graduate of Couch High School. He received an accounting degree and his law degree from UALR in Little Rock.

The prosecutor said he might spend two-and-a-half to three days a week at work in the prosecutors office.

As with most jobs, O'Neill said there are good parts and bad parts of being a prosecuting attorney.

"I have seen people who have committed crimes change. This is a good part of the job. If we didn't have some sort of system of accountability there would be lawlessness," he said. "It is important to maintain some type of civility."

O'Neill said a bad part of his job is dealing with people that can't be civil. "They usually go to the Missouri Department of Correction and that's not good," he said.

O'Neill said he truly believes that most people are good, not bad.

"This office is held to a higher standard than most because when I go to prosecute a case I have to be sure beyond a reasonable doubt. The rules of evidence don't allow me sometimes to put a lot of evidence in some cases," he said.

He was elected to his second term in 2002.


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