WILSON, N.C. — The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP is speaking out in support of a man from Wilson who, they say, has been wrongly imprisoned for shooting a man in self-defense at his home in Cobb County, Ga.
John McNeil is serving a life prison sentence there for the December 2005 shooting death of Brian Epp, who, McNeil says, charged at him with a knife in his driveway during a shouting match.
Local police agreed that McNeil acted in self-defense and did not arrest McNeil, but the local prosecutor still pursued the case.
"John McNeil was afraid for his life and his son's life, and he did what any father would do," state NAACP President Rev. William Barber said Friday at a news conference outside the Wilson County Courthouse.
The NAACP says Epp was armed and had threatened McNeil's son minutes before the shooting.
McNeil, who wasn't home when he learned of the threat, called 911 to report it and raced home, where Epp confronted him.
He refused twice to leave McNeil's property and continued to advance, despite McNeil firing a warning shot into the ground, according to the NAACP.
"It seems, in Georgia, a black man's home is not his castle, and his home means nothing before the law," Barber said.
Two white police officers and a white witness testified on McNeil's behalf that the shooting was in self-defense, and a Georgia Supreme Court judge agreed in his dissenting opinion in a ruling that upheld the conviction, the NAACP says.
"What happened to John McNeil is an obscenity to justice," Barber said.
Cobb County District Attorney Pat Head says he took the case to a 23-member grand jury because he felt there were too many unanswered questions about the case. Ultimately, a jury found him guilty.
"They all believed it was murder," Head said. "We have a system, and the system said he was guilty."
McNeil's family, which now lives in Wilson, asked the NAACP to get involved.
"John had every right to protect himself, and Georgia law was on our side," his wife, Anita McNeil said. "But John is not free."
She is now battling cancer, as well as fighting for her husband's release.
"My focus, my drive and my passion is getting justice and freedom for John," she said. "We have not lost faith nor hope that John will be free. Any of us can be John McNeil."