Ronnie Joe Neal

On the evening of May November 22, 2004 in San Antonio Texas a popular high school teacher, Diane Tilly, was packing in preparation for a trip when there was a knock at her door.  When she opened the door 15 year old Pearl Ann Cruz was standing there saying she had car trouble and asking to come inside and make a call. Soon Pearl and her father, Ronnie Joe Neal were inside Diane's house and by the time the night was over Diane would lay in field dead from several gunshot wounds.

Most reports that I found stated that at some point before the murder Ronnie Joe Neal had gone to Diane Tilly's home, with his daughter, Pearl, in search of lawn mowing jobs.  The stories say that while she denied needing her grass mowed she had offered them an old swing set that was in her yard.  This was the claimed as really being the only contact made between the victim and her murderers prior to her killing. However, at his trial there was a Thanksgiving card shown that Ronnie Joe Neal had apparently sent, or given, to Diane.  Within the care Neal wrote a note that asked if she liked Mexican food, and if so, he would like for her to go out with Pearl and himself.  I found no mention as to how this card got to Diane or even where it was found and if it was kept.  What I did find interesting about the card was that the note was riddled with grammar errors and yet sent to a teacher. Diane had a boyfriend, this was who she was packing to go visit at the time of her murder so one has to wonder what she thought of this card from Neal. Speculation was that Diane allowed Pearl into her home because she knew her from the one meeting outside her home involving the mowing of the lawn but I wonder if this was all she knew of Pearl and Ronnie Joe.

The following day she was to meet co-workers for a dinner and did not show.  They became worried and apparently after trying to reach her in different manners they filed a missing persons report on her.  Research is unclear as to if after the report was filed if her home was searched where it was found to be ransacked and her vehicle missing or if it was searched after her car was found burning later in the day near the field in which her body was later found.  Reports say that Cruz and Neal realized that there was a missing persons report filed and had taken her vehicle back to the area of the murder and had burned it.  At any rate rather quickly the police knew there was something wrong in this case.  They apparently ran checks on her debit and credit cards and found surveillance video of Neal and Cruz using her card the day after she went missing.  They were also able to determine the vehicle the two were driving at the time.  

On November 24th Cruz and Neal were arrested and held on suspicion of murder.  The authorities had found items belonging to Diane with them when they were arrested.  By December 4th Pearl had made a deal.  She not only told the story of what happened, she led them to Diane's body, agreed to testify against her father, and announced that she was pregnant.  Immediately it was suspected that the child she carried was her father's child.  When she gave birth the following July a judge ordered a DNA test be done in which it was confirmed that the child was the biological child of Neal. 

At first glance Pearl's deal does not sound like much of a deal to me. This is not to say that I did not think she should have told the complete truth as to what happened that night or where the location of Diane's body was located.  However, first we are talking 10 days from the time of the arrest until the time the deal was completely made and apparently hammered out and settled. In 2005 the United States Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal to execution someone who was a minor when they committed their crime.  So by the end of 2004 when Pearl is taking a deal it is unlikely that minors were being executed any way while they were waiting for the Supreme Court decision.  Had she held out a little longer (she could have said where the body was and what happened without taking a deal yet)or even gone to trial she likely would have gotten a better deal than she got on paper considering she was given a 30 year sentence, which was the maximum allowed by law.  So really death was the only thing she gave up and she would not have gotten that had she waited much longer.  Now, granted.... for those who know this story, I realize that in the end she served about 6 years in a youth facility so she did not serve 30 years.  However, I have seen case after case where people are told while making a deal that promises could not be made but they would attempt to make sure they were easy on them.  In the end I think her testimony in court against her father, about the life she was forced to live is likely why she was eventually released when she was and it would not have surprised me if she would have been guaranteed to receive that sentence had she taken her case to court. Ok... time for me to stop ranting about the legal system and tell you what happened and how the rest of this story ends.

So in her confession Pearl says that she knocked on Diane's door with the ruse of car trouble and that while she was inside pretending to call someone she pulled out a gun and held it to Diane.  She then went and let her father inside.  Apparently Pearl was left holding the gun to Diane while Ronnie Joe ransacked the house for valuables.  He then forced Diane to tell him her bank pass code. He then took her to her bedroom, with Pearl still holding the gun against her and raped Diane. Some reports say that Pearl stated that when this was happening she was angry with jealousy.  Many held that against her despite what you will later hear about her testimony in court. Ronnie Joe had apparently found a gun in Diane's home while he was searching and when Diane acted as if to refuse to leave with them and he shot into the floor to scare her.  She was then taken out to a field in which she was led a distance into the woods.  She was forced to kneel down while Ronnie Joe Neal shot her five to six times with her own gun.  He then poured peroxide on Diane's private area hoping to destroy any DNA found. It was later speculated that he had used Diane's gun because it did not leave shell casings like the gun Pearl had with them.   

In February 2006 Ronnie Joe Neal was put on trial.  As per her deal with the state Pearl testified against him.  She told the jury that she had been sexually molested by her father for several years prior to the murder of Diane Tilly and that her father had also prostituted her out to men for money.  Her claims were given more credence when the jury was informed that the child Pearl gave birth to in July of 2005 was in also the child of Ronnie Joe Neal.  On March 1, 2006 a jury found Ronnie Joe Neal guilty of the murder of Diane Tilly.  Suddenly his defense stood up and asked for an "Adkins" evaluation.  The 2002 Supreme Court case Adkins V. Virginia had addressed the issues of the "intellectually disabled."  They ruled that it was illegal to execute someone who in essence was mentally retarded with some guidelines to look at.  However, it still gave the states the right to determine just what that was to mean.  General consensus is that when someone has an IQ of 70 or below they are considered to be intellectually disabled. In 2014, long after this case was over, the case of Hall V. Florida made things a little more clear.  In my research I never found where there was any indication that Ronnie Joe Neal lacked intelligence.  It was later said by family members that he had attempted suicide when he was 14 years old and there were at least later indications that he suffered from bipolar disorder, but that diagnosis alone does not indicate a lack of intelligent. Consequently, it appears his actions during the murder refuted those claims.  A person of lower intelligence would not likely consider using a different gun than their own based on it expelling shell casings or even thinking about DNA, or thinking of ways to hide it, in which he did in this case.  In the end the defense failed in their goal and Neal was ultimately sentenced to death.

A few days after his sentencing he attempted suicide by medication.  It was said at that time that they were unsure how he was able to do this. On June 12, 2010, he was once again found in his cell unresponsive and it was determined that he died from an overdose of medication that he had apparently been hoarding.  It was found that just two weeks prior to his death it was discovered that he had over 100 pills saved up and they were destroyed but he was not put on suicide watch.  As far as his cause and manner of death there were no questions however, the prison said they would do an investigation into staff to ensure they had done nothing wrong and possibly change policies in how they distributed medication.

A few weeks after Neal was sentenced to die Pearl was official sentenced for her role and, on paper at least, was sentenced to 30 years.  She managed to serve her time in a juvenile or youth facility and it appears that she served until she was 21 and was released just prior to her father's suicide in 2010. So in essence she served about 5 and a half years. I would imagine that if she had been in any trouble since that time it would have made the news and made it big but my research did not find anything indicating she has not been in trouble since.  There were many comments to articles online referring to Pearl as the more evil of the two and those who were upset over her sentencing.  Personally, especially considering she has been out for nearly 5 years and does not appear to have gotten into anymore trouble, I think her sentence was just.  She was probably safer and learned more in the youth facility than she did on the outside.  Apparently one program indicated that during the murder Neal had called Pearl's mother but I found no indication to this or any reference to her mother what so ever so if her mother was alive at the time she apparently had no control over her daughter or she had allowed her to be with her father.  I suspect if she was fighting for her daughter, or to keep her away from Neal it would have been all over the news and I found nothing.  This murder was not Neal first major run in with the law, he had an extensive prison record so it is not like Pearl's mother could have been surprised that he did something illegal, or murder for that matter, so it does not sound that Pearl had much of a support system with her either.  In the end she was taught to kill, that does not make her more evil than the teacher, it makes her wrong, but it does not mean she cannot learn from her mistakes.  


  1. I agree, hopefully she got mentally healthy and is able to be a productive member of society. Most importantly, I hope she she dealt with her childhood trauma and is getting emotional support. Very sad story.

  2. I need to get ahold of the person who wrote this story.....
    Please.... As soon as possible.

    1. All comments are moderated by me before they are published. Although I cannot imagine what it is you think I can help with or do since all the information I have is here you can leave a comment and I can see it without publishing it. If you feel that you need a response you can leave an email where you can be reached.

  3. I started as a juvenile detention officer a month or so before pearl first arrived. I can tell u, pearl was extremely guilty and more than likely struck that deal not only to have some sort of future but also because the guilt was eating away at her. She was a model inmate her entire time at bcjdc and the chief's little pet. As for her mother, her mom was a piece of shit too. Drug addict who also prostituted pearl just like the father. Pearl told me her dad would make pearl have sex with his girlfriends too. He also molested pearls younger sister. Pearl admitted to me that this made her jealous. She also admitted she realized she sounded sick talking about her dad as if he were her boyfriend but that's how she saw him. One of the other girl's ridiculed her one day saying "at least I'm not a killer like pearl!" Pearl spent the day crying in her cell and I attempted to console her and got after the other girl. So pearl was very remorseful. She was coerced to be dads accomplice that much I'm sure of. Justice was served.

  4. Actually I know what really happened and the truth seeing as how I was 15 locked up with her and she and I became friends and she ended up confessing to me one night what happened I told the guards who called the police I took them to the body site but they couldn't find the body they didn't go in far enough so that's when they told pearl I had told they just can't publish that because I was a minor at the time. That girl is sick. And so is her sister ashley who I went to school with both of them and was locked up with pearl

    1. This tragic story is local to me, but most of the stories have been scrubbed from the local news sites. Where was Diane finally found?

    2. So where is pearl now? How is she doing and is she staying away from her sick family?


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