Pop star family dysfunction: 2 brothers, 2 murders, 2 grieving families
03/02/2017 2:20 pm PST
Crime Watch Daily has the story an R&B singer's epic fall from grace. Does tragedy run in the family?
Russell Neal shot to fame in the 1990s with the R&B group Hi-Five, even scoring a number-one hit.
Hi-Five scored Top 10 hits such as "I Like the Way," appearing on BET, Arsenio Hall and even "Soul Train."
But now more than 20 years later Russell Neal making news for another reason, one that has people in shock.
Russell's beautiful girlfriend Catherine Martinez would stop at nothing to be on top. The stunning 24-year-old Texas girl had the looks, the energy and infectious drive to be in the public eye.
"She was actually a fitness trainer, she was modeling and then she was training to try to become a boxer, a female boxer," said Glenda Lewis, one of Catherine's sisters.
"And body-building, don't forget that, she did win some championships on that," said Catherine's sister Emy.
But Catherine built her greatest hopes on her two boys. What wasn't working was her relationship with the kids' dad, Russell Neal. He wasn't working either -- not for a long time.
But there was a point when Russell Neal was at the top of his game, back when Hi-Five was scoring hit after hit on the pop charts.
Jonathan Kinloch was just a kid himself when he got hired as the group's road manager. He says Russell was the dreamy one with the smooth moves.
"He was 'Cool Russ.' He was the one who always was able to control his temper," said Kinloch. "The ladies loved Russell. He loved the ladies back."
In record company press kits, Russell, then 16, was promoted as a "Lovelorn Lothario."
But Russell felt Hi-Five was keeping him down.
"Russell decided that he wanted to have more of a singing part, but the labels and the producer didn't think that that was an appropriate decision to make," said Kinloch. "So he walked. Looking back, I think that Russell did not have a solid footing on where he was going to take his life at that particular time."
Nearly 20 years later it looks like solid footing might finally come when Russell meets Catherine Martinez, a stunning beauty nearly half his age.
"That's when everything changed. Everything changed in our life," said Mary Figueroa, Catherine's mother.
Catherine's mom and sisters weren't too sweet on her new "sugar daddy."
"There was something about him, his eyes, it was just something dark, so I didn't like him from the get-go," said Emy. "It was just the way he came, like you know, he was really stuck up -- 'You ain't got no money, stop it.'"
But Russell's past in the spotlight dazzled the girl with stars in her eyes.
"She used to brag about him at first, 'Oh, he got all this money and he's saying this, and he's so cool,'" said Emy. "To her it was everything because he was popular back in the day, but I kept telling her, 'He ain't popular no more.'"
Not popular, and flat broke too. That forced Catherine to be the breadwinner for her, Russell and their two little boys. But money was the least of their problems. There was reportedly domestic violence at home, according to Catherine's family.
"There were bruises and scratches and she would try to come to our house with makeup, and she would try and cover it up with makeup. You would see the foundation, everything trying to cover up her eyes, but we would tell," said Glenda.
Still, the smooth-talking crooner was always able to charm his way back into Catherine's life.
"Russell kept telling her 'I've changed, won't do it, we have a family, we need to be together,'" said Glenda.
"She always defended him, 'Oh, he's a good dad' -- He ain't no good dad, girl," said Emy.
But finally, enough is enough. Catherine's relationship with Russell is as washed up as his career.
"She was ready to do her own life by herself with her two kids. She put the kids in a new private school, homework. In the morning she had their lunches ready, breakfast ready, you can tell how organized she was. She wanted them to succeed," said Glenda.
It was a new beginning for Catherine and the kids.
A dedicated Hi-Five fan catches a glimpse of Russell Neal at the Houston Police Department. The fan excitedly snaps pictures of the faded superstar who's waiting to speak to police about Catherine.
"He just kept saying they got in a fight and she might need medical attention," said Glenda.
But it's worse than that. Much worse.
After leaving her mom's house on June 28, 2014, Catherine Martinez is nowhere to be found.
Then, on July 1, 2014, a cool and collected Russell Neal strolls into the Houston Police Department.
"He wouldn't say that she was dead," said Glenda Lewis, one of Catherine's sisters. "He just kept saying they got in a fight and she needed medical attention."
Paramedics race to the apartment that Catherine shares with her two young sons. What they find is the stuff of nightmares.
Police say they found Catherine, dead, bashed with a blunt object, and stab wounds from multiple strikes with a sharp object. Prosecutors don't want to compromise their case by saying what those objects are, but there's no doubt the assault was vicious.
"You couldn't tell it was her," said Glenda. "I was just hoping they had the wrong person because it didn't look like her. I mean we all know she was beautiful but it didn't look like her at all."
"It was overkill," said Emy.
And the ultimate low note to the horror? The sisters say Catherine's little boys are right there, locked in a room just feet from the ferocious attack and their mother's brutally beaten body.
"They were there," said Glenda.
"And I believe one of them walked out because he talks about it," said Emy.
"He has nightmares," said Glenda.
"He said 'Dad had blood on his shoes,' and his dad told them it was ketchup," said Emy.
At the county morgue, Catherine's mom is faced with something no mother should ever see.
"You couldn't recognize, the only thing I recognize about her, it was her teeth, her mouth, you know the way she would smile," said Mary Figueroa. "That's what I recognized on her."
Her own daughter had been dead for days. Her heartache and rage were all focused on one person
"Already know it was him, he was arrested, he turned himself in," said Mary.
After Russell's shocking admission to police, he refuses to say any more without a lawyer. He's charged with first-degree murder and released on a $100,000 bond
Then, Catherine's family's blood runs cold. Adding insult to their pain, they say, Catherine's two little boys are left in the care of Russell Neal's mom.
"They were with him the entire month," said Glenda.
"His mother was letting him see them," said Emy. "He would hide and come over there and let them take baths. Cops found that out and that's how they were removed.
Child Protective Services immediately moves the boys into the care of Catherine's mom, Mary.
Then, two months later, a twist that turns the case on its head: Russell's bond is revoked.
The crooner tells his bail bondsman he no longer answers to "Russell Neal." His new name is "Jesus Christ."
"At Rusk State Hospital. He's trying to play crazy," said Emy.
After a year of treatment at Rusk State Hospital, the Harris County Court comes to a different conclusion: Russell Neal is mentally ill and remains incompetent to stand trial.
Former R&B star Russell Neal currently sits in a state hospital, ruled incompetent to stand trial, even though police say the singer knew what he was doing when allegedly murdered his former girlfriend.
And as if this story isn't wild enough, Russell isn't the only Neal that's been accused of murder. Russell's brother Ronald Neal also now sits in prison.
So has Russell Neal found a way to beat his murder rap? Not quite. Prosecutors refuse to drop the murder charge. He's ordered to continue treatment and has another competency hearing in August 2017.
While Catherine's heartbroken family sifts through the wreckage of what Russell did, they wonder, Should they have seen this coming? They didn't have to look far.
"We don't hear many good things about that family as a whole," said Glenda Lewis, one of Catherine Martinez's sisters.
Turns out Russell's case has an incredible and similar back story starring Russell's younger brother, Ronald Neal, and a young beautiful mother of two named Stovyne Magee.
At age 29, Stovyne settles down with a boy she's known since junior high school: Russell Neal's younger brother Ronald. Just like Russell, Ronald doesn't make the best first impression.
"I didn't really care for him," said Denise Wesley, Stovyne's sister-in-law. "He seemed like a very mean person, angry person all the time."
"He thought he was more than what he was because his brother was a part of Hi-Five," said Niecy Watson, Stovyne's cousin.
The family's doubts follow the couple all the way to the altar.
"The day we went to pick out her wedding dress, I asked her Why Ronald?" said Glodine Allen, Stovyne's mother.
"She says 'I love him.' I'm like Tina Turner: 'What's love got to do with it?' I feel like she could do better."
It's just months into the marriage when the misgivings grow into regret.
"She just got tired of him because you know, his mom was basically paying his way," said Niecy Watson. "Stovyne was working. But his part, his mom would always help him pay his."
Then the family finds out it's even worse than they thought.
"She had started telling me stuff like bits and pieces of things," said Kevin Wesley, Stovyne's brother. "Like you know how he would jump on her and lock her up in the closet and whipped her with a belt one time and with a belt buckle."
"She wouldn't hardly ever wear makeup, but if she put on 'makeup-makeup,' she was hiding something, you know, a bruise or a black eye or something," said Niecy.
Then in late 2007, Ronald takes his abuse to a terrifying new level. After a reported wild night of booze and cocaine, Ronald attacks Stovyne. The 200-pound brute knocks his wife to the ground, straddling her and spraying her face with disinfectant.
Police take a report on Stovyne's injuries and Ronald Neal is charged with assault.
"She was done at that point," said Kevin Wesley.
Tragically, Ronald was not finished with her.
"When he found out that she had filed for divorce, he had took some TVs, computers and stuff like that, and he left, and he called me that same day and he said 'Yeah, this divorce ain't gonna be easy.'"
And it's not. The divorce turns deadly.
"Thursday morning when I turned my phone on, on my way to work, I had this phone call from Ronald," said Niecy. "I'm like 'Hello.' He said -- this is what he told me: 'Bitch, get your black dress ready because I'm fixing to kill this bitch.'"
On the very day Stovyne's divorce is filed, Ronald makes good on his promise.
The horror starts with a chilling 911 call from Stovyne's 10-year-old son, saying his stepdad has smashed his way into their home and dragged his mom into her bedroom.
"My mom said 'Please Ronald, don't hurt me,'" the boy tells the 911 operator. "Please, please rush 'cause she's crying, please."
The terrified boy pleads for help over his mother's blood-curdling screams. Then the call cuts off as gunshots are heard. Ronald shot Stovyne five times.
Rescuers might have a small window of time to save Stovyne, but first they've got to get past a madman with a gun. Ronald Neal has barricaded himself inside.
"That was his whole plan the entire time, was to sit there and let her bleed out," said Stovyne's brother Kevin Wesley.
Now there's a standoff. Ronald Neal refuses to come out of the house while his wife bleeds to death in the bedroom.
Stovyne's sister-in-law Denise arrives to find the family's once-loving home turned upside down.
"When I got there it was just pure chaos," said Denise Wesley. "I'm used to going there and seeing one or two police, but not police everywhere, tape everywhere. I had to make that phone call to her brother, to her mother, to her cousin."
Stovyne's brother Kevin calls Ronald and hears this from a man he once called family:
"He picked right up on the first ring, and I asked him 'What did you do to my sister?'" said Kevin. "And he said 'I shot her.' Just like that: 'I shot her three times.'"
For more than two hours, hostage negotiators try to get Ronald Neal to surrender. But he puts them off, saying "Give me a few more minutes" and "Let me get dressed," all while Stovyne's life slowly slips away.
"'So you just going to let her sit there, you're not going to let them come in there and help my sister?'" said Kevin. "'No. I'm not.' So that was his whole plan the entire time, was to sit there and let her bleed out."
The SWAT team can't let that happen. They rush in. Ronald fires two rounds at police, but misses, and thankfully runs out of bullets.
"When they did enter through the door, well, he had already used his last bullet, and so I guess they didn't shoot him 'cause they realized that the slide was back on the gun and there was no more ammo on the gun," said Kevin.
Rescuers move Stovyne to the front yard to administer CPR. Tragically it's too late.
Ronald Neal is dragged from his hiding place and arrested for murder. Arlington, Texas Police have a lot of questions for the crazed killer.
But the first thing the heartless gunman wants is to talk to his mom. After that, Ronald Neal acts surprised that his wife is dead when detectives tell him he's being charged for murder and two counts of attempted capital murder.
Ronald claims insanity.
"He tried to plead insanity, he tried to plead 'crime of passion,' but I told the D.A., 'No. I am not going out like that," said Niecy, Stovyne's cousin.
But before the mental illness defense can be tested in court, Ronald makes a surprising turnaround. He pleaded guilty.
"The judge gave him 80 years, and you know, in Texas that's basically equivalent to a life sentence," said Sean Colston, Dallas County Assistant Criminal District Attorney. "He'll have to serve 30 before he's eligible for parole."
He gets 80 years in prison. At age of 50, that could be a life sentence.
Stovyne's cousin Niecy still doesn't think it's enough.
Was Ronald's case a blueprint for murder for his brother Russell, who confessed to killing the mother of his two kids six years later?
"I can't believe this has happened again in the same family," said Niecy Watson. "What is wrong with them?"
Russell Neal is still holding on to the insanity defense while being evaluated in a mental facility awaiting trial.
Crime Watch Daily scheduled an exclusive sit-down interview with his brother, Ronald Neal, behind bars. We wanted to know, Could the convicted murderer tell us anything to help understand what drove his brother Russell to kill Catherine much in the same way he murdered his own wife?
But just minutes before our interview was set to begin, all bets were suddenly off.
When Ronald Neal got word that we were on prison property, he refused to come out of his cell even though he had previously agreed to do an interview with us. So after a lot of back and forth talking between the warden and prison personnel, Ronald still did not budge. But he did have someone deliver this letter to me, which reads: "I, Ronald Neal, do not want to participate with the media interview in any way at this time." It is signed "Ronald Neal."
With Ronald now tight-lipped, Crime Watch Daily paid a visit to Russell and Ronald's parents in Waco, Texas to see if they could shed some light on their two sons. To date, they have not responded to our request for an interview.
Until the former pop singing sensation Russell Neal goes to trial, any kind of justice in Catherine Martinez's case is put on hold, leaving two grieving families to pick up the pieces.