Midway native Benjamin O’Neal grew up within walking distance to the Cay Creek Wetlands Interpretive Center, and he spent a great deal of his life fishing and crabbing from its docks.
“If you can’t catch him by 8 o’clock, he’s already at the crabbing hole,” his sister Mary Ann Wells recalled. “That was just his way of life.”
The familiar site now fills Wells and her family with fear and frustration, as it is where 60-year-old O’Neal was stabbed multiple times on the morning of July 21. He was transported to Liberty Regional Medical Center and later was pronounced dead.
Now, Wells wants to keep her brother’s memory alive and is striving for justice, she said.
When police were called to the scene, they found O’Neal unconscious and unresponsive on a dock in Cay Creek. Another man, Fort Stewart soldier Pfc. Kenneth Turner, 27, was at the scene. He sustained a single stab wound and was airlifted to Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah.
“To think that something like this could happen in this small town of Midway is devastating,” Wells said.
During a July 25 news conference, Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes announced that Turner had been charged with one count of felony murder and one count of aggravated assault in connection with the crime.
Turner, who is being held at the Liberty County Jail, was denied bond in his first hearing before the magistrate court. Another bond hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday before Judge Robert Russell.
Wells said she is frustrated with the system and the lack of support and information she and her family have received from both the sheriff’s office and Fort Stewart.
“I want to speak for my brother, because he can’t speak for himself,” she said. “I want to make sure that he did not die in vain — he didn’t have to go like that.
“He was stabbed 40 times. I was devastated to hear how many times — he was probably begging for his life,” Wells said. “It is very devastating. We would like to seek answers, and right now we’re getting nothing — as though there’s just one person gone.”
All leads have been followed up and the case is moving into the administrative phase, Chief Deputy Keith Moran said Friday.
Detectives are compiling the necessary case documents, and once they receive final laboratory and autopsy reports, the case will be handed over to the district attorney for prosecution.
Investigators still have not established a motive for the crime, but Moran speculated that one possibility was that the men got into an argument that escalated.
Any sort of order for a psychiatric evaluation on Turner would have to come from the district attorney, he added.
“The sheriff’s office sends their condolences to the family,” he said. “It’s a terrible crime.”
Moran said he also will make a more concentrated effort to ensure Wells and her family are informed of the case’s progress.
Speaking on behalf of Fort Stewart, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Ben Garrett said that the 3rd ID is fully cooperating with the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office as it continues its investigation.
“The alleged actions of the individual soldier do not reflect on the values of our Army,” he said. “The death of Mr. O’Neal is a tragic loss, and we extend our condolences to the family of Mr. O’Neal.”
O’Neal, the seventh of 13 children, was a kind person, with a generous heart and a comical laugh, Wells said. He did not have children of his own, but he helped his family members raise their own children.
An outdoors enthusiast, O’Neal rode his bike everywhere and loved gardening.
As a young man, O’Neal worked as a veterinary assistant, and he “knew all about dogs,” his sister said. He also moved in with his ailing mother and served as her caregiver as her health declined. In recent years, he took on handyman projects for people throughout the community.
Every couple of weeks, Wells would go to Midway and visit her brother.
“We would just sit under the tree and we would talk,” she said. O’Neal was supposed to move in with Wells in Hinesville the week he was killed, she said.
Wells clearly remembers the day she lost her sibling. She said she received a call from Liberty Regional Medical Center, where she works as a nurse technician, and was told her brother had been stabbed multiple times. O’Neal was not breathing, but he had a weak heartbeat, so surgeons planned to operate on him, the caller told her.
“When I got there, they said ‘I’m sorry, he didn’t make it,’” she said. “To think that someone could do something like that to a person makes me angry.”
Since then, the entire family has been shaken. More than 200 people attended O’Neal’s July 30 funeral at Community Baptist Church in Midway, she said.
“I’m trying to go on with life, but it’s hard, very hard,” Wells said. “Sometimes I can’t even sleep at night, thinking about what he went through … he probably begged for mercy, and there was no mercy there.”