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Wilson native claiming innocence in Ga. to have hearing Tuesday

Posted February 9, 2013

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— A Wilson native who has served more than five years in a Georgia prison for a killing that he maintains was self-defense will have a hearing Tuesday, just days after his wife lost her battle with breast cancer.

A Georgia judge ruled last fall that John McNeil should be released because of multiple errors at trial, including that the jury was not properly instructed on a person's right to use force to defend himself, his home or another person from violent attack.

McNeil's wife, Anita, who had moved back to Wilson, died Feb. 2 after breast cancer spread to her bones, her sister Tracey Drew told the Associated Press. 

John McNeil and his family were the only black residents living in an upscale suburban Atlanta neighborhood in 2005 when he shot and killed a white man on his property.

Witnesses corroborated McNeil's story that the man had threatened McNeil's son with a knife and refused to leave the property even after McNeil fired a warning shot into the ground.

Police initially ruled the case self-defense, but months later, the Cobb County District Attorney's Office pursued a murder charge against McNeil and won a conviction.

Georgia passed a Castle Doctrine law, allowing homeowners to stand their ground and use deadly force if threatened, a year after McNeil's shooting.

The state law previously required homeowners to show they had tried to retreat before using deadly force in order to claim self-defense.

The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP got involved in McNeil's case in September, and several representatives visited McNeil at Macon State Prison. 

"The McNeil case is a prime example of the age-old unequal justice in the court system," Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, said in a statement.

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