On Friday, Nov. 13, convicted killer Rodney Patrick McNeal is set to be granted parole and released from a California prison, without having to fully serve his sentence, due to Gov. Gavin Newsom commuting McNeal’s sentence.
On March 10, 1997, former San Bernardino County Probation Officer Rodney Patrick McNeal murdered his wife, 39-year-old Debra Marie Crow McNeal, and unborn child Samara, in Highland.
McNeal was initially sentenced to 30-years-to-life in prison for the murders but has recently been granted parole and release on Nov. 13.
According to Debra’s daughter and Rodney’s step-daughter, Shantel Haynes (who was 13-years-old at the time of the murders), the relationship between Rodney and her mother was blatantly violent. Police records show that several domestic violence calls were placed throughout the duration of her relationship with Rodney, but Debra had a difficult time leaving this abusive relationship.
“It looked like they were just playing around,” Shantel recalled of the first time she witnessed the violence. “He [Patrick] took her [Debra’s] arm and bent it up behind her back really hard. She yelped in pain, and I knew that wasn’t normal. My brothers started to cry and we [Debra’s four children] were all panicking, and I started screaming, ‘Let go of my mom!’”
The violence Rodney inflicted was not limited to only Shantel. She remembers how McNeal treated her and her three siblings.
“There was just something off about him, and it was horrible when he was around. He would try to take our mother away from us. He wanted to make sure she felt isolated from friends and family. He would stalk her to make sure she could not see her kids.”
Shantel remembers how excited she and her siblings were when their mother shared she was finally going to leave Rodney.
“I have to go back to get a few things. I am coming back for good,” Debra told Shantel the day before her murder.
This was the last time 13-year-old Shantel would speak to her mother. With hope for a new life on the horizon, Debra went back to her shared residence with McNeal to get her things and to collect a life insurance check.
Sadly, Debra never left the shared residence alive. She was found in the residence after Rodney told a neighbor to call 911.
According to Terry Lynn, Debra’s best friend, Debra went back to the residence to collect a tax return check in order to claim her children as dependents. At this time, Debra was living in Las Vegas while her children lived with their biological father in California.
During his incarceration, McNeal has made claims on a couple of occasions that Debra was after his money. This statement is not true as Shantel stated that her six-month-pregnant mother was left nearly penniless by Rodney when he drained their shared bank accounts more than once.
According to Lynn, once the police investigators left the crime scene following Debra’s murder, Rodney went to the mailbox to retrieve the check Debra desperately needed.
The California Innocence Project
In 2000, McNeal was convicted and sentenced to 15-years-to-life in prison for the killing of Debra, and a second consecutive sentence of 15-years-to-life for the killing of Samara.
In 2015, the California Innocence Project agreed to take McNeal’s case. They believed there was substantial evidence to prove that someone else committed the murders of Debra and Samara McNeal. They were unable to convince the courts of their belief. Gov. Newsom became aware of McNeal’s case and decided in March of 2020 to commute McNeal’s sentence, paving the way for McNeal to seek parole.
Shantel Haynes is working incredibly hard to make sure McNeal, her mother and baby sister’s killer, stays in prison. She spoke directly to many members of the California Innocence Project, expressing both her frustration and fear for her life if McNeal were to be released.
Shantel feels that the California Innocence Project holds little regard for the lives lost. In fact, according to Shantel, the California Innocence Project defined Debra as a white woman when in fact she was a proud indigenous woman of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe. Shantel feels this demonstrates the organization’s carelessness and blatant disrespect for victims.
Despite objections, parole is granted
On Wednesday, Sept. 3, a parole hearing convened, yet there was a split decision among the two commissioners hearing McNeal’s case, as to whether he should or should not be granted parole. On Tuesday, Oct. 20, a board of commissioners decided to grant parole to McNeal.
The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office adamantly opposed this decision, which was expressed in a letter by District Attorney Jason Anderson.
District Attorney Jason Anderson sends a letter
Anderson was appalled by the parole board’s decision.
“The parole board’s decision regarding double-murderer Randy Patrick McNeal strips away the notice and reliance the victims’ family placed in the criminal justice system. These ideals are the bedrock of an ordered society. Today, in this case, those ideals were discarded by government bureaucrats in favor of a man who killed his wife and daughter,” said Anderson.
Newsom agreed to shorten McNeal’s sentence claiming McNeal “committed himself to his self-improvement” during his sentence. The problem with this claim is that McNeal has demonstrated a continued lack of respect and adherence to rules and laws while in prison, according to the district attorney’s office. McNeal was reportedly caught with cellphones and heroin, which conflicts with the portrayal of McNeal as an inmate working toward bettering himself.
While both Rodney and the California Innocence Project point fingers at Rodney’s half-brother, Jeff (who is also serving time in prison as a convicted killer), the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, the jury that heard this case, and Shantel Haynes firmly believe Rodney is to blame.
“I knew it was him,” Shantel said. “Even at my mother’s funeral, Uncle Jeff was crying and showing true emotion while Mr. McNeal just sat there. He didn’t carry the casket or help put my mother in her resting spot. That’s your wife and child….dead. It doesn’t sit right.”