MMIWR: Debra Black Crow

March 25, 2022 | by: Analis Lamboy
MMIWR: Debra Black Crow

Debra Marie Black Crow was born in Wyoming in 1958. She was the third eldest daughter of her family. She was also a Native American of the Arapaho and Oglala nations. Part of her childhood was spent living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Eventually, Debra graduated high school and a had the desire to become a nurse.

In 1995, Debra had become a single mother trying to support her four children. Through Debra’s best friend, she met Rodney Patrick McNeal. The couple knew each other for five months before they decided to get married. Not long into the relationship, Debra and her children started to see a different side of Rodney. He became abusive towards Debra, which caused her children to move in with their biological father out of fear.

At the time, Debra was working as a nurse in San Bernadino, California and Rodney was also working as a parole officer. It should have been an exciting time for the couple. Debra was pregnant with her fifth child. A baby girl that she had already named Samara. Despite the exciting news, Rodney’s abusive and controlling tendencies only became worse. Around the time of her murder Debra was prepared to leave her marriage. However, on March 10th, 1995, she and Samara were found deceased in their home.

The circumstances of Samara and Debra’s case are complicated. The last person to be with Debra and Samara was Rodney. During the initial investigation, police discovered that Rodney had pulled out a 100,000-dollar life insurance policy on Debra. After her death, Rodney also attempted to profit from this policy. Due to Rodney’s conflicting timeline and the suspicious life insurance policy, police focused on Rodney as the main suspect. The investigation concluded and Rodney was sentenced to two counts of second-degree murder on May 3rd, 2000. He was also given thirty years to life in a California prison. In 2021 Governor Gavin Newsom decided to expedite McNeal’s case. Eventually, McNeal was also approved for parole. During the wait for McNeal’s release, Debra’s daughter Shayna worked effortlessly to keep McNeal in prison.

Shayna reached out to several organizations to assist her. She even directly spoke to the California Innocence Project. Who, oddly enough, decided to assist McNeal in trying to reverse his sentence. Haynes and her family spoke to the California governor’s office and the South Dakota Tribal committee. A campaign rallied behind Shayna and her family which resulted in Governor Newsom’s decision to reverse McNeal’s parole.

The victimization of indigenous women has skyrocketed. In fact, Governor Newsom pointed out that Rodney’s crime has only perpetuated this trend. According to the National Indigenous Women’s resource center, it was reported in 2016 that four out of five (84.3 percent) American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence. The majority (96 percent) of AI/AN female victims of sexual violence experienced violence at the hands of a non-Native perpetrator. (Individuals of other races).

The lives of Debra and her daughter Samara can never be replaced. Regardless, it is important to remember the work that Debra’s children did in order to keep their mother and sister’s killer responsible. However, we should really be honoring Debra and her daughter Samara. Their names are not said enough, and they were too beautiful to forget. The discussion surrounding Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives does not happen enough. If you can, please consider joining us in our panel discussion with key stakeholders in the Riverside County Community (including County Officials and various members of Tribal Leadership) on May 5th, 2022, to discuss the growing epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives. For more information or to RSVP, please reach out to the Cahuilla Consortium Outreach Prevention and Education Coordinator, Cesar Segura at or (951) 663-9647.


True Crime Daily Podcast Recounts the Murder of Debra Black Crow | Currents (

California Governor Commutes Sentence of Murderer of an Indigenous Woman, Family Demands Justice by Rae Rose — Last Real Indians

Resources for Media | NIWRC

About Debra BlackCrow, My Mother by Shantel Haynes — Last Real Indians

Debra Black Crow McNeal – Women & Crime (

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This website was produced by the Cahuilla Consortium under grant award #2019-VO-GX-0010, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed on this website are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.