Helen McNeal received a message from her son, Fred McNeal, on the night of Aug. 14 last year telling her he wanted to come home. After a short voice call, he told his mother he couldn’t talk right now and he would call her back later.
But Helen McNeal said he never did call back. Ector County Sheriff’s Office officials believe it was that night that her son was kidnapped by seven people who assaulted and sexually assaulted the 26-year-old man before he died. He was later buried in a shallow grave in northwest Ector County.
McNeal was first reported missing by his sister in September last year, and his body was recovered by Ector County deputies a month later after a cooperating source led deputies to McNeal’s buried body.
After several months of interviews and interrogation, ECSO issued capital murder charges, a capital felony, against seven people believed to be involved in the death of Fred McNeal: Jose Ramirez, Jennifer Rogers, Wesley Dickenson, Michael Silvas, Mikel Stegall Jr., Eddie Barnes, and David Dearick.
“I pray every day that God gives me a sweet attitude when I go in front of these people,” Helen McNeal said. “They took my son away from a little girl.”
Helen McNeal said her son had a 2-year-old daughter, Violet McNeal, who is with her mother. Fred McNeal had a prior history of methamphetamine use, Helen McNeal said, and added she fears what led to his death may have been drug-related.
Fred McNeal had been out of prison for a couple of months, his mother said, he had been convicted of violating probation due to possessing a prohibited weapon. She said her son told her he was going to Odessa from Abilene for reasons she was unsure of, and a few weeks later he was reported missing.
A probable cause affidavit states that the seven people who are charged kidnapped McNeal and took him to a travel trailer in the 1800 block of South Shawnee Trail. There, McNeal was reportedly assaulted, and the suspects reportedly used a solid object to penetrate his anus before he died in their custody.
Sheriff Mike Griffis described it as a “brutal, gruesome crime” and called it the worst crime he has seen in his history in law enforcement.
Griffis said he is unsure as to the exact relationship between all of the individuals, or of the relationship Fred McNeal had with any of them, but said he believes McNeal’s death may have been drug-related.
“Some of these individuals are known drug users and abusers, but we haven’t identified a motive yet for sure,” Griffis previously said.
McNeal’s Facebook profile shows Stegall, Dearick and Rogers on his friends list. Several of the suspects charged also have each other listed as friends on their Facebook profiles as well.
The seven charged are familiar faces to many law enforcement officials, Griffis said, each one of them having a substantial record of felony and misdemeanor charges.
Michael Silvas is the most notable of the seven, as this is the second capital murder charge he will be tried for after he was charged with capital murder in the shooting death of Ryan Stebbins in January along with Johnny Aguirre, who was also charged with capital murder.
The seven have lengthy records of everything from burglary to dumping to possession. Here’s a look at their records:
JOSE ARMANDO RAMIREZ:
- Convicted of unregistered vehicle and driving while license invalid in 2014.
- Convicted of burglary of habitation, a second-degree felony, in 2005.
- Charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, a class C misdemeanor, in Feb. 2018.
- Charged with theft of a firearm, a state jail felony, in 2016, but was dismissed.
- Convicted of possession of a controlled substance in 2016.
- Convicted of speeding in 2013.
Rogers’ ex-husband said it was hard to believe when he heard the news of her being charged with capital murder. He said he still talks to her occasionally and she had never mentioned anything about the case to him.
“I was sitting at home and my step-sister left me a message,” he said. “You can’t miss Jennifer; I spit my drink halfway across the living room.”
He said Rogers had gone through hard times in her life.
- Convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, a third-degree felony, in January 2018.
- Convicted of burglary of habitation in 1987.
- Charged with capital murder in January 2018.
- Convicted of illegal dumping, a class B misdemeanor, in 2016.
- Convicted of forgery, a state jail felony, in 2013.
- Convicted of stealing or receiving a stolen check, a class A misdemeanor, in 2013.
- Convicted of two counts of driving while license invalid in 2011.
- Convicted of operating a motor vehicle without financial responsibility in 2011.
MIKEL STEGALL JR.:
- Charged with unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon in 2017.
- Convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon in 2015.
- Convicted of theft of aluminum, a state jail felony, in 2012
- Convicted of theft of property, a class A misdemeanor, in 2011.
- Convicted of accident involving damage to vehicle, a class B misdemeanor, in February 2018.
- Convicted of theft of property in January 2018.
- Convicted of theft, a class B misdemeanor, in 2017.
- Convicted of theft of property in 2017.
- Charged with possession of drug paraphernalia in 2017.
- Convicted of two counts of unauthorized use of a vehicle, a state jail felony, in 2015.
All are now charged with capital murder. The charge is capital murder because the victim died during the commission of other crimes including aggravated kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault. Should any of the seven be found guilty, they would be sentenced to either life in prison or death.