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NAACP to Olens: Don't Appeal Ruling in Kennesaw 'Self-Defense' Killing

A Georgia Superior Court judge recently issued a ruling that could free John McNeil.

Supporters of a Kennesaw man convicted of killing an armed trespasser in 2005 are claiming a small victory after a Georgia Superior Court judge recently issued a ruling that could free the man.

Baldwin County Judge Hulane E. George found that John McNeil received "ineffective" counsel during his trial and suffered prejudice because jurors were not informed that they could acquit him "based on his justified defense of his son," according to a final habeus corpus order signed on Sept. 25.

Now leaders of the nation's oldest civil rights organization are hoping that Georgia's attorney general won't appeal the latest ruling in the case of McNeil, who is serving life in prison for aggravated assault and felony murder in the shooting death of Brian Epp.

The NAACP has sent Attorney General Sam Olens a petition with the signatures of more than 14,560 individuals who share the organization's position.

"We cannot comment because this is a pending case," said Lauren Kane, the spokeswoman for the Georgia Attorney General's Office. 

If Olens doesn't appeal George's ruling, McNeil could soon be a free man.

"This is the first step towards righting the wrong the Cobb County made when it prosecuted a father for defending his family on his own property," NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a statement on Saturday. "We are urging the state to not appeal this decision. John has spent years in prison, separated from the family he protected, because a district attorney decided to prosecute John 274 days after two police detectives ruled his case self defense."

According to court documents, McNeil’s teenage son confronted Epp in the backyard of the family's home on Dec. 6, 2005, and told him to leave. Epp brandished a knife at the son, the teenager notified his father, and McNeil rushed home. He also called police to tell them as much, court records indicate. When McNeil arrived home, he told his son to go inside. An argument with Epp ensued. McNeil fired a warning shot into the ground. Epp approached McNeil in the driveway. McNeil shot and killed him.

Police cleared McNeil of any charges in 2005, saying McNeil acted in self-defense. Nine months later prosecutors charged McNeil with murder, and a Cobb County jury convicted him and sentenced him to life in prison in 2006.

He is serving that sentence at the Macon State Prison, according to state Corrections Department records.

McNeil's case has drawn national attention. The North Carolina and Georgia state conferences of the NAACP, in conjunction with the national organization, held a rally in Marietta in August 2011 to support McNeil.

“This is a great step by the judge to acknowledge something went wrong in the case and conviction of John McNeil,” said Rev. William J Barber II, the president of the NAACP North Carolina State Conference. “We hope the state of Georgia will see the error of its way and admit they have wrongfully convicted a good man who only engaged in justified self defense. We call on everyone who believes in justice to join us in a massive mobilization and moral outcry to free John McNeil.”

Open the PDF under the photos to read John McNeil's habeas appeal. Click here if you cannot view the PDF.

Related content

  • Poll: Was It Self-Defense?
  • NAACP: Kennesaw Killing Was Self-Defense

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Marley October 02, 2012 at 02:45 AM
I can't believe that anyone in Kennesaw would believe this man is guilty, a city that prides itself on a law insisting on gun ownership. I don't even know McNeil, but I was intrigued by the case and considered writing about it. This man bought a home from a man (EPP) that was, by trial transcripts, intimidating. According to transcripts he stalked the family, sat in front of their home and frightened his wife. This went on for months. He was supposed to finish the punch list on the home and never did. The family let it go because they wanted him out of their life. McNeil's son was waiting at the home for a delivery when Epp came on the property. It was when McNeil's son was on the phone with his father when he approached Epp and asked him to leave. John McNeil was on the phone with his son when Epp pulled out a knife and threatened his son. NOT ONE MAN THAT I HAVE MET IN KENNESAW WOULD HAVE DONE NOTHING. HE WOULD HAVE DONE WHAT MCNEIL DID, RACE TO HIS HOME TO PROTECT HIS SON. McNeil even called police on his way. Epp was in the neighbor's yard and McNeil approached him with a loaded hand gun. Epp LEFT THE NEIGHBORS YARD AND APPROACHED MCNEIL ON HIS OWN PROPERTY and threatened him. McNeil fired a WARNING SHOT to get EPP to leave but Epp kept coming, kept threatening. No Epp did not have a knife open at the time, but it was by his side. He kept coming at McNeil and then McNeil shot him on his property. http://www.slideshare.net/eacweb/justicefor-johnmcneilv5a
Dan October 02, 2012 at 12:22 PM
This is the first I have heard of this. Has anyone set up a foundation for Mr. McNeil? I am a gun owner and a believer in the 2nd Amendment. Who is the NRA rep for that area? Any 2nd Amendment foundation members? This is truly a travesty. I don't care about shooting a warning shot or anything else. The dead man trespassed on another man's property. Bet he won't do it again...

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