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TEXARKANA, Texas — A man accused of threatening a witness in his brother's criminal case pleaded not guilty to obstruction/retaliation Monday at a hearing in Bowie County district court.

Lajonta Dewayne O'Neal, 25, is accused of repeatedly threatening a witness in a criminal case against O'Neal's brother, Xavier French. French, 20, received a 40-year term in September for aggravated kidnapping and aggravating robbery involving a young single mother and her baby, both of whom he threatened at gunpoint.

O'Neal was indicted earlier this month by a Bowie County grand jury. The charge facing O'Neal, obstruction/retaliation, is a third-degree felony typically punishable by two to 10 years in prison.

O'Neal appeared Monday for arraignment before 202nd District Judge John Tidwell. Assistant Public Defender Clayton Haas entered a not guilty plea on O'Neal's behalf.

First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp noted for the record that the state is seeking to enhance the punishment range facing O'Neal to that of a second-degree felony — two to 20 years — because he has a prior felony conviction.

Crisp said that in discussions with the defense, Haas has indicated that O'Neal "wants his jury trial" and asked Tidwell to put the case on the court's trial schedule, which is considerably backed up because of the pandemic. Asked by Tidwell how long she expects it will take to try O'Neal's case, Crisp responded that the case should take about one day to present to a jury.

Tidwell scheduled the case for the week of Jan. 5.

O'Neal allegedly called the witness a "snitch" in a phone call and threatened to kick in the witness' door and kill them, according to a probable cause affidavit.

O'Neal is accused of making threatening calls to the witness repeatedly over an approximately one-month time frame beginning around the time of French's arrest in June 2019.

Bowie County court records show O'Neal has prior convictions and served time in prison for deadly conduct.

O'Neal's bail is set at $100,000. He is being held in the Bowie County jail.

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