A Dover man charged with the July 2011 killing of a father and son n their Dover home has been sentenced to life in prison, the Attorney General's Office announced today.
Jason T. O'Neil, 28, was arrested by Dover Police on July 25, 2011 and charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the killing of Howard A. Sheppard, 91, and Howard R. Sheppard, 60, who were discovered earlier that morning at their home by a family member. The senior Sheppard died from blunt force trauma to the head while his son died of multiple stab wound and lacerations. O'Neil was a neighbor of the victims at the time.
O'Neil was indicted on Oct. 3, 2011 on first-degree murder, burglary and other charges by the Kent County Grand Jury. On Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012, O'Neil pled guilty but mentally ill to two counts of first-degree murder. He was immediately sentenced by President Judge James T. Vaughn, Jr. to two life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.
Dover Police arrested a neighbor in a double murder on North Governors Avenue on Monday, the same day investigators began their investigation.
Jason T. Oneil, of 346 N. Governors Ave., was arrested for two counts of first degree murder and other related charges stemming from the double homicide, which occurred at 344 N. Governors Ave. sometime between Saturday morning and Monday morning, police said.
A family member found 91-year-old Howard A. Sheppard and his son, 60-year-old Howard R. Sheppard dead inside their home Monday morning, Dover Police Capt. Tim Stump said Monday afternoon. The family member then immediately called 911 at 9:21 a.m. Monday.
The elder Sheppard still operated Sheppard Furniture Repair out of the house, neighbors said.
The suspect had apparently broken into the residence between Saturday and Monday, Stump said. Both victims were killed during the encounter as a result of head trauma, Stump said.
Investigators said they were able to develop Oneil as a suspect shortly after the bodies were located. The investigation led to a search warrant of Oneil's home, where police say physical evidence was recovered.
The bodies have been turned over to the Delaware State Medical Examiner's Office to determine the exact cause of death, Dover Police said, he said.
"We're waiting on the Medical Examiner's Office to complete their autopsies and then we will have a cause of death," Stump said.
The 'grandfather of the community' & his son slain
John Edwards, 24, has lived about four houses down from the Sheppard home for nearly a year. The Sheppards were always friendly to Edwards and his friends, he said.
Page 2 of 3 - "We'd see them walking down the road and they would stop, say hi and joke around a little bit," Edwards said. "I can't even fathom how the family feels about this. I told the police, 'If there's anything we can do, just let us know.' We try to be good, Christian, caring people."
Maria Valentin, 50, and her husband Hiram Maldonado Valentin, 58, have been neighbors with the elder Sheppard for 33 years. They live across the alley from the Sheppards' backyard on the 300 block of North New Street.
"I am in shock because he was a good man,' Maria Valentin said. "He would talk to us and joke. He was a veteran and he worked for the state for so many years. He was a good person, and his son was really nice."
The Valentins' children called the elder Sheppard "grandpa" while growing up, Maria Valentin said. Then, their grandchildren took to calling him by that same term of endearment.
"He was the grandfather of the community," she said.
The community loses a craftsman
Hiram and Maria Valentin admired the elder Sheppard, who was still strong and would still repair old furniture and make it look new again, from time to time.
"He was the only one in the neighborhood who did this work," Maria Valentin said. "Now, there is no one."
Sheppard's son was not as mobile due to an accident, and his father helped him out, Hiram and Maria Valentin said.
"He was always walking," Hiram Valentin said of the elder Shepard. "The last time I saw him on Thursday, he was walking. He was still working, too. He was still strong.
"We always had a good relationship," he added. "He was a good neighbor. We helped each other – whether gardening or whatever."
There have been break-ins on this block before, and one woman's van was stolen in January, said Edwards, of the block that is less than a mile from the picturesque historic downtown area of Dover.
"Our car stereo had gotten stolen and there wasn't much the cops could do about it," Edwards said. "So, I hope they catch the person who did this.
"I think it's going to take a major toll on the neighborhood in general," he said. "It's starting to turn into a big city. I moved to Delaware [from Detroit, Mich.] to get away from that."
Laura Morsberger, 36, lives behind the Sheppard home on North New Street with her family. When Morsberger saw the police cars, she thought it was for a routine, domestic dispute call. But, then she learned it was the Sheppard home – a spot criminals have targeted before, she said.
Page 3 of 3 - "People take advantage because they know he's elderly," Morsberger said. "It's horrible. Crime has gotten worse and worse."
Something was amiss
Morsberger and Maria Valentin knew something was wrong when Sheppard's truck did not move.
"At dinnertime, you always saw him in his truck because he always went so slow," Valentin said.
"Mr. Sheppard would drive that red [Ford pickup] truck 20 miles per hour all over Dover; he was in and out 10 times a day," Morsberger said. "He'd park over here [on Mary Street] and walk to his house to get some exercise. He'd always tell everyone what was going on in the neighborhood."
—Antonio Prado, Staff Reporter, July 27, 2011