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Man charged in Billings 1998 rape and attempted murder cold case

BILLINGS – A man has been charged in relation to a 1998 cold case on Billings West End after police say he raped and tried to kill a Billings woman.

Zachary O’Neill was charged with attempted deliberate homicide and rape on Jan. 11, according to documents recently obtained by Q2 News.

Documents state that O’Neill attacked a woman as she was helping her daughter with a paper route near Broadwater Avenue and 24th Street West.

The woman told officers at the time that as she was walking down Broadwater Avenue, she heard running footsteps behind her. She said as she turned around to see who it was, she was hit by someone.

The woman told officers that the man put her in a choke hold and held a knife to her throat as he began to move her into a location in between two buildings.

Documents state that she was ordered to pull down her shorts, and even as she pleaded with the attacker, he persisted.

When she did not willfully pull down her shorts, she told officers the man pulled them off and told her “I’m not going to hurt you. I’ll let you go when I am done.”

The man proceeded to rape her, demanding that she did not look at him. She described to officers that she could sense that her attacker was getting angry, and she tried to get away by tucking herself into the fetal position. That was when the man began to slash at her throat with a knife.

During the attack, she decided to pretend to die.  She told officers she made “death” sounds and then went limp.

At that point, she told officers the man got up and ran.

When officers arrived, they found her with puncture and slash wounds to her throat and defensive wounds on her hands and arms.

She gave officers a description of the man but said she never got a good look at him.

Officers documented the scene and secured a used condom found in the area as evidence.

Documents state potential suspects were identified during the investigation, but they were eventually ruled out and no charges were filed.

On March 21, 2017, O’Neill was interviewed by Yellowstone County Sheriff’s deputies about an unrelated case. It was during that interview that O’Neill confessed to the 1998 crime.

The information was passed to the Billings Police Department, who originally investigated the case, and a DNA test was sent to the Montana Forensic Division for analysis.

The test showed that the DNA from the used condom found at the scene belonged to O’Neill.

O’Neill is set to make his first appearance in court on these charges later this week.

Watch Q2’s story below from Sept. 5, 1998 here.

Samantha Sullivan

Samantha Sullivan

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