Before she died, Renee Sue O’Neal painted a chilling picture of what it’s like to be stalked by an ex-romantic partner.
Her ex-boyfriend stole the gun she kept to protect herself and her twin sons. He narrowly missed her head with a rock he hurled through her bedroom window while she slept.
When she relocated to Lincoln, he found her.
“Over and over and over again, for months, his goal was to terrorize me, and my whole family was victimized and fearful as a result,” O’Neal said of her former boyfriend, Jerrod Devery Hill, 31. “My sons and I have had to try to understand how someone who once lived with us, who we once trusted, could do such terrible things to us. I have had to explain to my boys that this is not normal and that there are still other people who can be trusted.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
O’Neal’s words – contained in a victim statement – were to be read at Hill’s sentencing hearing May 18 on felony stalking charges. But the day before the scheduled hearing, O’Neal was found shot to death behind the wheel of her car inside her Lincoln garage.
Hours after O’Neal’s violent death, Hill was found in his car off Interstate 80 near Truckee, dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound after fleeing Lincoln and the officers who pursued him into the Sierra.
Hill had pleaded no contest in April to the domestic violence charges.
O’Neal, 35, was the mother of twin boys and an employee at a local dental imaging firm. The transcript of the statement she wrote to a Sacramento Superior Court judge in April was obtained by The Sacramento Bee.
People end relationships all the time, O’Neal wrote, but “they don’t then make it their mission to terrorize and destroy the lives of their exes.”
The May 18 hearing went forward, even though charges against Hill, now dead, were dropped.
“Your honor, as you’re aware, this case was on today for judgment and sentencing,” Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Keith Hill told Sacramento Superior Court Judge Stephen Acquisto, according to transcripts of the brief proceedings. “As this court is also aware, the victim was murdered yesterday and the defendant committed suicide, and so for those reasons, the People have no choice but to dismiss this case.”
Before dismissing the case, however, prosecutor Hill took the unusual step of asking the judge if he could read her statement posthumously in open court. It would be a final tribute from prosecutors shaken by her sudden loss.
“It’s not the usual thing,” said Paul Durenberger, a Sacramento County assistant chief deputy district attorney. But he added, “This woman was such a great person – very smart, a good mom. I can’t articulate it better than what she wrote.”
O’Neal had once shared a roof with Hill, a chiropractor from El Dorado Hills, but had since filed a restraining order against him and fled from Sacramento County to nearby Lincoln in Placer County. Hill faced four felony charges in Sacramento County for burglary, stalking and petty theft, after repeatedly breaking into her home.
He smashed the kitchen window and flooded her home, chased away the family’s dogs and wrought yet more damage while she was away last summer tending to her late father’s estate.
The family’s fear was constant. He was unrepentant, she said. Neither their move across county lines – nor the court order – could stop him.
“Once he realized we had relocated, he did not give up. He pursued his search for me. I lived in a constant state of fear while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for my sons,” O’Neal wrote. “I had no idea what his next move would be or when – not if – he would return.”
O’Neal’s statement ended with a demand that Hill face the consequences for going to such extremes to hurt others and hope that she and her family could finally move on “from this awful chapter in our lives.”
A memorial service for O’Neal was held May 24 at her family’s Roseville church. Her obituary remembered the Woodcreek High School graduate for her singing voice and her compassionate spirit, the lives she touched, and her love and dedication to her twin sons, Levi and Landon.
A Facebook page under O’Neal’s name called for changes in privacy laws for victims of domestic violence in her honor. Her employer, Beam Readers, paid tribute on its website, honoring her “legacy of helping others .... Her impact on our team and culture will always be felt.” Beam Readers also linked to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which spotlighted a sobering statistic: “In America, one woman is fatally shot by a spouse, ex-spouse or dating partner every 14 hours.”
O’Neal’s stepfather, Craig Dial, declined a request to be interviewed for this story, but a subdued Durenberger said O’Neal’s words and tragic end continue to resonate among his people.
“The words speak for themselves. It was very hard for our unit to process what had happened. We tried to think of a way to honor her for the last time,” Durenberger said. “We tried to give her a voice for the last time.”