Life is often full of lessons learned such as the longest journey starts with a single step.

During his lifetime, Thomas Teal,56, started on his journey several times and along the way took many missteps before finding the right path.

It is 10 years ago this week, Teal confessed to an Orange County Deputy, he had participated in the crime of murder in Sept. 1977. Investigators for more than 25 years believed the Teal brothers had committed the murder of Ronnie Hermann, but did not have sufficient evidence to make the arrests.

Thomas Teal had gone to the sheriff’s office in Sept. 2002, to make a report against his younger brother, Donald Teal, who had stolen his lawn mower and sold it for money to buy drugs. He met with the deputy and like many times before, he handed him a copy of his testimony which is what he did when he came in contact with people.

Thomas’ testimony is a statement of the events in is life which has led him to his strong faith in God. He passes out copies in hopes of helping others.

The deputy, who was familiar with the murder case, told Thomas, “I have a sign in my office which says underneath it, ‘“I shall not kill,’” according to Record Archives. The deputy added, “I work for the Lord too and my job is the truth seeker.” The deputy then asked who had killed Herman.

Thomas says he thought about what the deputy said and he prayed.

“God said to make a clean slate,” Thomas said. “I had to obey what God told me to do.”

But, he admits it was not easy.

“The hard part was trusting Him,” he said. “I could have gotten life.”

However, Thomas said giving a confession was a relief and like a large weight has been lifted from his shoulders.
The confession to the murder enabled officers to arrest Donald. But, Donald had met a woman in Oklahoma and had left Orange County two months prior. When they arrived in Oklahoma, Donald had left about two hours before their arrival and was on his way to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

It wasn’t long before deputies received information from the Myrtle Beach Police Department, Donald was in jail for domestic violence.

Deputies flew to meet with Donald at the jail a week later and he confessed to the murder. However, he would be released from jail before the Orange County deputies could get an arrest warrant. Donald returned to Oklahoma. A bulletin was issued for his arrest and authorities apprehend him in Cherokee County, according to Record archives.

Thomas was in jail on a $100,000 bond. His brother, Donald would join him there within a week. In an affidavit of probable cause, both brothers told of the events which lead up to the murder.

Both brothers were in the drug dealing business.

They were into pharmaceutical drugs, Thomas said.

Herman also was a drug dealer, and according to Thomas had intentions of killing him in order to take over his source of drugs.

“He had bragged he had cut some people’s heads off with a machete in West Orange and was going to kill me too,” Thomas said.

According to archives, Thomas’ statement said Donald picked up Herman in his Oldsmobile Cutlass and brought him back to the Teal residence. After they arrived, Thomas met them on the porch. Donald got out of his vehicle and walked up to the porch and stood in the doorway. As Herman walked toward the house, Thomas, from about 15 to 20 feet away, fired a shot gun filled with bird shot which scattered across his body.

“I didn’t want to die,” Thomas said. “It was him or me.”

After being shot, Herman started yelling, “Help, he shot me!” and ran toward where Donald was standing. Thomas stated he then ran behind his house when he heard two shots.

“He shot him twice in the head,” Thomas Teal said.

Thomas said in his statement, Donald then came to the back of the house and told him it was over.

Donald ‘s statement varies from that of his brother although the outcome is the same.

According to archives, Donald stated it was Thomas who had brought Herman into their illegal drug business. Thomas had furnished Herman with some illegal pills, but Herman refused to pay for them until he had met their source. He added he had picked up Herman from Second Street in Orange and brought him back to their residence. Donald said he went into the house pretending to call the drug source while Thomas stayed outside talking to Herman. Donald then heard Herman shouting, “He shot me! He shot me!” and went outside to see what had happened. Donald stated he thought his brother had shot Herman. Donald told investigators he thought Herman was running towards him because Herman was going to kill him. Donald stated he fired a shot toward Herman which struck him in the chest. Donald fired another shot while Herman was on the ground.

Both brothers stated they got a plastic bag from the house and placed it around Herman’s head and chest in order to keep the blood out of the trunk of Donald’s vehicle. They stated they drove to the Hartburg and stopped near a concrete bridge. Together they placed Herman’s body in the water, according to archives.

Investigators had their work cut out for them, but managed to gather information, even though a lot of their witnesses had since died because of the many years since the murder occurred.

Thomas was sentenced to 12 years in prison while Donald was sentenced to 30 years. Thomas served five years and was released in Sept. 2007. Donald remains in prison with a projected release date of June 5, 2014.

According to Thomas, his brother, Donald, is “still angry” and has drug issues. He sends him money and prays for him.

“I pray his heart will change,” Thomas said. “Satan has a hold of him bad.”

Thomas said he is not worried about Donald being released and says he is leaving it all to God.

Prison was not easy for Thomas. While he was there, the other inmates cussed at him and called him all sorts of names. They also threatened and robbed him. In addition, they tried to get him to do drugs and smoke cigarettes with them.

“But I would not compromise my testimony by playing any of their games,” he writes in his testimony. ‘I trusted God and put it all in His hands.”

While in prison he shared his commissary with those who did not have anything. As a result, he says God blessed him because he always had plenty.

“I ran out of commissary money a couple of times and they wanted me to write and ask for more money; but I would just pray and it would show up. God protected me, provided for me, guided me, helped me the whole time I was there, “ he wrote.

The roads Thomas had taken throughout his life were filled with dangerous turns.

When he was 17 years old he quit school and joined the Navy. The Vietnam war was underway and he wanted to show everyone he was “not scared like they were.” He had his 18th birthday overseas. He “started walking in the ways of the world” during boot camp. After the war was over, the President authorized 10,000 discharges and he was lucky enough to receive one, according to his written testimony.

“I was discharged from the Navy, but not the world,” he wrote. “I stayed in the ways of the world for the next 21 years.”

In 1983, Thomas was in northern Georgia, drinking whiskey and smoking “dope” when he got into a fight with three men. He was OK and went back to his house. Thomas and his wife lived upstairs in a two-story house. One of the men he had gotten into the fight with and had received the worst of the beating lived downstairs with his wife.

“He started hollering and cussing me saying how he was going to whip me good,” he wrote. “‘I started down the stairs, he opened the door and emptied a .22 automatic on me.”

Thomas was struck 11 times by the bullets. He still has two of the bullets inside him. They are located near his lung and in his leg.

“I lived through all that, but did not give God the glory,” he wrote. “I thought it was because I was so big and bad that I lived.”

Thomas continued through his life in the “ways of the world.”

His life would take a dramatic turn in June 1985. He was in Cow Creek and was once again drinking whiskey and smoking “dope.”He decided to go across the river into Louisiana to visit his cousin. He got into a fight with his wife and he lost control of the vehicle. It began to roll and he was thrown out the window and “bounced off of five pine trees.”He suffered from broken bones and was in a coma for over two months.

“I had 13 doctors say that I would never live, but if I did I would be confined to a wheelchair and be a vegetable for the rest of my life,” he wrote.

His brother had a preacher come to his bedside and pray for him.

“He rode his Harley down from Houston, put his hands on me and prayed for me,” he wrote. “I woke up before he got back to Houston.”

Eight months later, his wife said she “didn’t want to live with a cripple” anymore and wanted a divorce. After she left, he dove back into the bottle again, he said.

But, he wanted a change, so he quit drinking in Sept. 1988. Thomas said he was tired of feeling bad from the effects of the alcohol. In addition, he was tired of drinking to escape from his life and trying to forget what he had done.

“I have been clean and sober for 23 years,” he says proudly. “It feels good too.”

Thomas said he has many regrets in his life. One is living that type of lifestyle which led to the death of Herman.

He found a ride to church and to his surprise it was the same one he had left. By 1995 he re-dedicated his life to the Lord. Driven by his faith, he confessed to murder in 2002.

Since his release, life is “good” for Thomas. He starts each day with reading his Bible. It has a leather cover and is made by the prison leather factory which he purchased after his release. He still prays daily to get closer to God.

He then has his morning coffee. Thomas goes to church every Sunday morning. Also in attendance at the church is the judge who sentenced him to prison whom he now calls “my brother.” He said he does not have a wife or children, but the church members are his “family.”