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.
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.
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