From the stage to the courtroom
Posted on: November 12, 2012
Alicia Devoy O’Neill, assistant district attorney for Harris County, originally planned a career on the stage, not in the courtroom.
After completing her basic courses at College of the Mainland, O’Neill was studying theater at the University of Texas at Austin when she got the call.
One of her best friends, Jessica Cain of Tiki Island, was missing. She and many others volunteered to aid in the search.
“That summer I was working hand in hand with the police,” said O’Neill.
Despite the diligent efforts of law enforcement assigned to the case, Cain has never been found. The experience changed O’Neill’s focus and gave her a passion to speak out for other victims.
“I wanted to pursue advocacy with my speaking ability,” O’Neill said.
Though not a conventional pre-law track, her theater experience at College of the Mainland helps her in the courtroom today.
“COM Community Theatre gave me the opportunity to speak in front of people and to be persuasive. So many people fear public speaking. If you are able to master it, it is an asset in the courtroom.”
She is still in contact with director Mark Adams.
“Mark was, and continues to be, a huge mentor and someone who’s always believed in me and inspired me,” she said.
Adams vividly remembers her as a student.
“She was very talented in the theater. I’ve been very proud to follow her career,” he said. “Alicia is one of the sweetest people you’d meet, but I wouldn’t want to be on the opposing side of her prosecution. She has a strong sense of justice.”
She went on to earn a law degree at the University of Texas at Austin and has worked in the Harris County District Attorney’s office for nearly a decade.
O’Neill currently handles forensic testing and exonerations for the district attorney’s office. Under Texas law, inmates may file a motion requesting post-conviction DNA testing. O’Neill investigates the claims and determines what testing is needed. Her work results not only in exonerations but sometimes also in proof of who really committed the crime.
One investigation resulted in the exoneration and release of Michael Green, a man who was wrongly convicted and served 27 years in prison. Green now owns a home and has a child.
“He’s definitely rebuilding his life,” said O’Neill.
Her experience both performing and taking classes at COM laid the foundation for her future success, O’Neill said.
“The things I learned and professors I had formed the basis of everything,” she said. “I learned how to prioritize. Those studying skills were skills I used at UT and at law school.”