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Murder trial set to begin;

By Lance Cpl. Renee Krusemark | | June 2, 2005

A court martial was slated to begin Wednesday afternoon here for a 1st Marine Division Marine charged with murdering another Marine's wife with whom he allegedly had an affair.

A nine-member panel of Marines, finalized Wednesday morning, will hear evidence in the case against Gunnery Sgt. Archie O'Neil Jr.

O'Neil is accused of shooting Kimberly D. O'Neal Feb. 29, 2004, before he boarded a plane for Kuwait with 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

He was apprehended on March 1, 2004, in Kuwait and returned to Camp Pendleton, where he remains in confinement.

Several members of the panel, the military equivalent of a civilian jury, were sworn in May 26. The judge, Col. Robert Chester, reminded panelists to reach a verdict solely on the evidence.

The panel consists of eight men and one woman.

During the May 26 hearing, O'Neil sat intently, taking notes and speaking often with lead defense counsel Capt. Mike Studenka and co-counsel Maj. Leon Francis.

O'Neil pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include violating Article 118, murder; Article 92, failure to obey lawful orders or regulations; and Article 134, general article of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Specifically, the charges include premeditated murder; wrongfully introducing a privately owned firearm and ammunition into Kuwait while deployed; failing to register a .45-caliber pistol; unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon; and wrongfully having sexual relations with a married woman who was not his wife.

If convicted of premeditated murder, O'Neil could face a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.

O'Neal's body was found March 1 at Deer Park near Basilone Road.

Thirteen shells from a .45-caliber pistol were found at the crime scene, according to court statements.

Although the murder weapon was never recovered, witnesses will testify that O'Neil had such a weapon, according to statements made in pretrial hearings.

The pistol can hold 11 rounds; the shooter fired 11 times, then reloaded and shot twice more, authorities presume.

If the pistol was reloaded, it could indicate the killing was not premeditated, lawyers for the defense have said.

During pretrial proceedings, defense attorneys said they would argue that post-traumatic stress disorder prompted the shooting and that the government can't prove premeditation.

The court martial is expected to last three weeks.