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Jonathan Tears

Other Tennessee Exonerations
On May 11, 2008, 29-year-old Jonathan Tears got into a fight with Gary DeJuan O’Neal outside the Soul Train Bar and Grill in Lewisburg, Tennessee. The fight ended when Tears drew a pistol and shot O’Neal once in the chest.
O’Neal survived and identified Tears as his attacker. About two weeks later, Tears was arrested and charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault, use of a weapon in commission of a felony and illegal possession of a weapon.
Tears went on trial in April 2009 in Marshall County Circuit Court. Prosecution witnesses testified that the two men quarreled about Tears’ failure to make child support payments for his two children—whose mother, Felice O’Neal, was O’Neal’s cousin.
O’Neal’s girlfriend, Taquia Johnson, testified for the prosecution that she was in the bar when she heard O’Neal say, “I don’t like you, and you don’t like me. Don’t disrespect me, and I won’t disrespect you.” Johnson told the jury that she did not see O’Neal and Tears fist-fighting because she had walked to her car. She said she thought the quarrel had ended, but when she heard two gunshots, she ran back and saw O’Neal taking his shirt off to examine himself.
Johnson testified that she saw Tears running away. She said she then went inside the bar and told Felice O’Neal that “her baby’s daddy had shot [O’Neal].”
Ashton Davis testified that she was outside of the bar when O’Neal and Tears were fist-fighting. She testified that she saw Tears smack O’Neal. Davis said that O’Neal then hit Tears numerous times in the head. Davis testified that she thought Tears was losing the fight and that O’Neal was still hitting Tears when Tears pulled out his gun and shot O’Neal. She said that she did not see what happened next because she fled when she heard the gunshots.
O’Neal testified that he had stopped fighting and was backing away when Tears shot him.
Although Tears did not testify, his lawyers attempted through cross-examination to suggest that Tears shot O’Neal in self-defense. A physician who examined Tears testified for the defense that Tears suffered from vision problems that were consistent with getting hit in the head numerous times.
On April 17, 2009, the jury convicted Tears of attempted murder, aggravated assault and the weapons charges. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
In 2013, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, ruling that Tears’ trial lawyers had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to cross-examine O’Neal about his first statement to police after the shooting. In that statement, O’Neal said he had little memory of what happened prior to the shooting because he had been drinking, but that he did remember being on top of Tears and hitting him when he got shot. This contradicted his trial testimony that he had backed off of Tears when he was shot.
The appeals court said that O’Neal’s initial statement matched the testimony of Davis, the witness who said that O’Neal “was still on top of Tears and hitting him when (Tears) pulled the gun out and shot the victim.”
On June 6, 2014, Tears pled guilty to a charge of illegal possession of a firearm, and the Marshall County District Attorney’s Office then dismissed the charges of attempted murder, aggravated assault and use of a weapon in the commission of a felony. Tears was sentenced to four years in prison and was immediately released because he had already served more than six years in prison.
– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/27/2014
Most Serious Crime:Attempted Murder
Additional Convictions:Assault, Gun Possession or Sale, Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2008
Sentence:25 years
Age at the date of reported crime:29
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No