McNeil’s wife, Anita, said at an NAACP news conference in suburban Washington on Friday that she recently visited her husband in prison, where he is serving a life sentence for which he will be eligible for parole after 14 years. He has served 5 ½ years of the sentence.
“He’s not bitter, he’s not angry, he just knows that he has supporters out here,” said Anita McNeil, who added that she hadn’t been able to visit him as much as she would like to because she has breast cancer.
John McNeil’s case stems from a Dec. 6, 2005, confrontation with Brian Epp at McNeil’s home on Earlvine Way in Kennesaw. Epp got into an argument with McNeil over work he was doing for McNeil. McNeil shot Epp once in the head with a 9mm handgun, an action he said was taken in self-defense when Epp came at him with a knife.
Police and the county medical examiner said Epp was not armed, having a utility knife he used as a homebuilder clipped to his pocket.
NAACP President Ben Jealous said the organization is putting together briefs for the case, which could end up in an appeal as well as a new trial leading to months of new litigation.
“Can a man in the US of A defend his family?” Jealous asked. “Some people say this is about a black man in Georgia, but it is a black man in Georgia defending his family. When can a man in America defend his family?”
The NAACP has started a legal defense fund for John McNeil, which is accepting donations at any Wells Fargo branch, and an online petition has collected 23,000 signatures asking for his conviction to be overturned.
In addition, a rally in support of McNeil has been planned for noon on Nov. 10, either on the Marietta Square or at the State Capitol in Atlanta.
North Carolina NAACP State Conference President the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II said there have been a number of misconceptions in the case. He said John McNeil and Epp never had a running feud.
“He did everything he could,” Barber said. “He retreated, he went backward, he fired a warning shot.”
The North Carolina NAACP has dealt with the case because Anita McNeil moved there while undergoing cancer treatment.
Attorney General Sam Olens said Wednesday that McNeil’s defense in his trial was effective in announcing his decision to appeal a ruling by Baldwin County Superior Court Judge Hulane George.
George ruled last month that McNeil received ineffective counsel in his 2006 trial. Olens’ appeal will send the case back to the Georgia Supreme Court.
Olens made his decision to appeal on the request of Cobb District Attorney Pat Head. George did not dismiss the case, but set aside the conviction. If the Georgia Supreme Court upholds the ruling, the case would come back to Cobb for a new trial.
Atlanta attorney Mark Yuracheck, who filed the habeas corpus petition on McNeil’s behalf, said he filed it in Baldwin County because McNeil was being held there at the time. McNeil was moved on Aug. 27 to Macon State Prison in Oglethorpe.