Kennesaw Man Convicted of Murder Could Be Released
Tuesday, John McNeil's years-long legal fight could come to an end.
After John McNeil was sentenced to life in prison for fatally shooting a man at his Kennesaw home in 2005, supporters spent years fighting for his freedom.
McNeil, whose wife died of breast cancer on Saturday, is scheduled to go before a Cobb County Superior Court judge and plead to a lesser crime of manslaughter, a move that could allow him to leave state prison as early as next week.
McNeil is serving life in prison for aggravated assault and felony murder in the Dec. 6, 2005, shooting death of Brian Epp, the builder of his Kennesaw home.
According to court documents, McNeil’s teenage son called to say that there was a strange man in the backyard of the family's home who had pulled a knife on him. McNeil rushed home. While en route, he called 911 to tell authorities all that had happened, court records indicate. Despite pleas from the operator to remain in his vehicle, McNeil got out of his car with a gun. An argument with Epp ensued. McNeil fired a warning shot into the ground. Epp moved toward McNeil in the driveway. McNeil shot and killed him.
McNeil's supporters, including his late wife and the NAACP, said he acted in self-defense. Police said the same thing initially and cleared McNeil of any charges. But nine months later, prosecutors charged him with murder, and a Cobb County jury convicted him and sentenced him to life in prison in 2006.
The case sparked debate about Georgia's version of the so-called stand your ground law, the defense being used in Florida in the February 2012 shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.
Even as she fought breast cancer, Anita McNeil maintained that her hubsand was only guilty of trying to protect his family and worked to secure his release.
As recently as October, she joined the NAACP for a news conference shortly after Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens appealed a judge's ruling that John McNeil should have been released because of multiple errors at trial.
That appeal sent the case back to the Georgia Supreme Court, where the case is pending. The state's highest court in 2008 upheld McNeil's conviction.