AG’s office will fight to keep convicted murderer in prison
by Lindsay Field
October 18, 2012 12:57 AM | 3818 views | 8 8 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
John McNeil
John McNeil
Attorney General Sam Olens  (MDJ File/Erin Gray)
Attorney General Sam Olens (MDJ File/Erin Gray)
MARIETTA — At the request of Cobb County District Attorney Pat Head, the state Attorney General’s office is appealing a Baldwin judge’s ruling that vacated former Kennesaw resident John McNeil’s 2006 murder conviction.

Baldwin County Superior Court Judge Hulane George ruled last month that McNeil did not receive effective counsel in his 2006 trial. McNeil was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

The appeal will send the murder case back to the Georgia Supreme Court.

State Attorney General Sam Olens said McNeil’s defense was adequate.

“After a careful review of the habeas court’s order and the entire trial transcript, this office has determined that an appeal of Mr. McNeil’s case is both warranted and appropriate,” Olens’ office wrote in a Wednesday news release.

The notice of appeal was filed yesterday in Baldwin County Superior Court.

“I sent (Olens) a memo asking him to appeal, and I volunteered to lend some of my appellate staff if needed,” Head said. “I do appreciate that.”

Now that the appeal has been filed, it will be up to the Georgia Supreme Court to determine whether McNeil received an adequate defense and a fair trial in 2006.

Defense attorneys argued in the petition for habeas that McNeil’s former attorney Tony Axam represented him poorly and that the jury’s verdict could have been different if the attorney acted adequately, the state office’s release states.

“It’s not uncommon for a habeas to be granted,” Head said. “The issue is whether certain constitutional rights were not protected. The judge here said (McNeil had) ineffective counsel and he’s entitled to another trial.”

George did not dismiss the case but set aside the conviction, Head said, adding that if the Supreme Court upholds the ruling, the case would come back Cobb for a new trial.

“If they reverse, then his conviction stands and his only appeals would be in federal system,” Head said.

Atlanta attorney Mark Yuracheck filed the petition on behalf of McNeil in January.

“We are obviously disappointed that the Attorney General has decided to appeal this case,” he said Wednesday in an email. “That said, we have a great deal of faith that the Supreme Court will agree with Judge George and affirm her decision.”

Yurachek previously said he filed the habeas corpus petition in Baldwin County because McNeil was being held there at the time. His client was moved to Macon State Prison in Oglethorpe on Aug. 27.

McNeil, 46, was convicted of felony murder and aggravated assault in November 2006 after shooting Brian Epp to death in 2005.

Cobb Superior Court Judge Dorothy Robinson sentenced him to life in prison, with eligibility for parole after 14 years. He has served 5½ years of his sentence.

The Georgia Supreme Court upheld the conviction, 6-1, in November 2008, with then-Chief Justice Leah Sears as the lone dissenter.

The case stems from a confrontation between Epp and McNeil in the driveway of McNeil’s Kennesaw home on Earlvine Way on Dec. 6, 2005. Epp got into an argument over unfinished work he was doing for McNeil. McNeil shot Epp once in the head with a 9mm handgun, an action he claimed was taken in self-defense when Epp charged at him with a knife.

Cobb police, who arrived at the home shortly after the shooting, pronounced Epp dead at the scene. Both police and the county medical examiner said Epp was not armed when he was shot. A utility knife the homebuilder carried remained clipped to his pocket.

According to witnesses’ testimony, Epp and McNeil got into a confrontation after a history of disagreements during the completion of the home.

The trial began with jury selection Oct. 30, 2006, and he was sentenced about 10 days later.
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February 14, 2013
So let me get this straight, he shot the guy in the head, and claimed it was self defense because the guy had a knife and lunged at him. The only knife he had on his body was a utility knife that was still in his pocket. Hmmm sounds like he shot him in cold blood and deserves to die.

And yet, " stand your ground" is racist when a Hispanic defends himself from a black thug, but works well with the NAACP and is not racist when defending a Black that obviously kills an innocent White man.

Our system has failed, and the PC brainwashed Libtards are the cause.
October 24, 2012
A few other interesting notes: the Kennesaw police believed that this was a clear case of self-defense and actually refused to arrest Mr. McNeil. DA Head had to use the county police. The Kennesaw police officers who investigated the shooting also testified in Mr. McNeil's defense at his trial.
Innocent and Convict
October 21, 2012
As one who committed an act of self defense and was charged with a crime and convicted, when all I did was try to protect myself from a doped up and intoxicated man who attacked me with a butcher knife, I can well understand the outrage of Mr. McNeil's supporters.

Although GA law gives a person the right to protect himself and his family from harm, it seems with the prosecutors we have now, you had better be able to prove self defense if you are ever attacked by someone planning to do you bodily harm.

My incident happened in Cherokee County, where you are presumed guilty unless you can prove yourself innocent.

And to make it even more difficult for the accused, the people doing the accusing do not necessarily want to be convinced of your innocence.

So, as one who has been there and had it done to him, I can well understand Mr. McNeil's plight, and sympathize with him.

I think they have an innocent man in jail.

October 18, 2012
This is an obvious case of blatant racism. Knowing the facts of this case, I can't understand why the jury convicted him to begin with, other than being told he was guilty of murder despite protecting his son, his own life, and his property. Oh and what a surprise that Sam Owens is white. Racism is obviously still rampant in Georgia and anyone with common sense would see this man doesn't deserve to be in prison. Not to mention that Epp even had a history with other customers of being threatening and violent, yet this innocent man sits in prison for defending his life. Another sad day in Georgia, and another example of how this legal system favors some races over others! Oh and one last note, when you accuse me of playing the racism card, know that I'm white.
no name
October 19, 2012
I totally agree with you. It is time to have Mr.Head remove from his position as the District Attorney for Cobb County.
October 20, 2012
You cant just go around shooting people just because your mad!!! That man claimed self defense what part did you not understand?????!! You can not calim self defence if the other person does not have a weapon!! I dont give a damn where your from!!!!

October 24, 2012
Re: Zoe70. The MDG article on this case does not really do it justice. Mr. McNeil was not 'mad' at Mr. Epp, nor were they arguing about contract work. Mr. Epp had been barred from the property because of previous aggressive behavior. On the day in question, he showed up and threatened Mr. Epp's son with a knife. The son called his father who returned home. Mr. Epp was waiting for him in a truck across the street. When Mr. Epp got out and approached, Mr. McNeil warned him to stay away and fired a warning shot. Only then did he actually shoot and kill Mr. Epp.

The police found it to be a clear case of self-defense. It was prosecuted 9 months later after the Cobb DA's office got anonymous notes pressuring them to prosecute. Given that Mr. McNeil was clearly acting within the bounds of GA's castle doctrine, his conviction seems unjust.
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