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'Warrior for justice' laid to rest after breast cancer fight

Posted February 10, 2013
Updated February 12, 2013

— A Wilson woman who fought for her husband's release from a Georgia prison was laid to rest Sunday, just days before he could be released after more than six years behind bars.

Hundreds of people gathered at L. N. Forbes Original Free Will Baptist Tabernacle in Wilson to pay their respects to Anita McNeil, who was remembered as a fighter and a warrior for justice.

McNeil, 47, died Feb. 2 after a long battle with breast cancer that had spread to her bones.

For years, even as she underwent chemotherapy for her second bout with cancer, she spoke out for the release of her husband, John McNeil, from prison in Georgia, where he is serving a life sentence for the 2005 shooting death of a man in Kennesaw, Ga.

John McNeil and his family were the only black residents living in a neighborhood of the upscale Atlanta suburb when he shot and killed Brian Epp on the McNeils' property. Witnesses corroborated his story that Epp threatened the McNeils' son with a box cutter and refused to leave the property even after John McNeil fired a warning shot into the ground.

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

The McNeils' story eventually caught the attention of several civil rights groups, including the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, who worked alongside of Anita McNeil to bring attention to her husband's case.

Anita McNeil Wilson woman remembered as 'warrior for justice'

Rev. William Barber, who gave the eulogy at her funeral Sunday, said that one of Anita McNeil's final requests was for everyone to keep on fighting for justice.

"She said, 'We can't quit, because we're all fighters,'" Barber said in a statement shortly after her death.

"Now, as she reigns with the angels, let us imitate her courage and strength and commitment to justice and right until our day comes," he said.

"Anita was a woman of boundless faith. She had no doubt that the arc of the universe would bend toward justice for her husband," NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said. "We will carry on the torch of her passion and double down on our demand for John McNeil’s freedom."

Anita McNeil last saw her husband in September, when she was able to spend three hours with him. The two were able to speak by phone shortly before she died.

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

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, however, appealed the ruling.

John McNeil is expected to enter a plea Tuesday to a lesser charge of manslaughter and could go free.

"The hope is he can get out and he can move on, and we can fight together to clean up this criminal injustice," Barber said Sunday. "People should not have to go through this kind of hurt, pain and tragedy – particularly at the hands of the criminal justice system."

19 Comments

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  • kenloe3981 Feb 11, 3:24 p.m.

    Her husband should be charged with a hate crime ......folks should learn the facts about the crime !

  • censorshipsucks Feb 11, 3:08 p.m.

    Who says "justice" hasn't already been served with him going to prison. The dead man's family probably thinks so.

  • ginufine3011 Feb 11, 2:31 p.m.

    You don't and shouldn't wait until a criminal is up on you or in your house before you use deadly force, while on YOUR PRIVATE PROPERTY.

  • ginufine3011 Feb 11, 2:25 p.m.

    It’s amazing how some people’s view of the right to “Stand Your Ground” changes depending on the shooter / ‘victim’s’ color…..WooHoo2You

    AMEN!!!

  • Duke _Nukem Feb 11, 2:05 p.m.

    "Now, as she REIGNS with the angels, let us imitate her courage and strength and commitment to justice and right until our day comes," he (Barber)said.

    I don't have a degree in religion, BUT I do know that the only one who reins in Heaven is Jesus with the Father.

    You need to brush up on that part of the Bible, Reverend.....

  • WooHoo2You Feb 11, 11:58 a.m.

    It’s amazing how some people’s view of the right to “Stand Your Ground” changes depending on the shooter / ‘victim’s’ color…..

  • 4Strikes Feb 11, 11:37 a.m.

    "Mr. McNeil should have gathered up his family and gone into his home and called the police. When will people learn. Being right does not guarantee you will receive justice. He has given up so much over property! I would ask. Was it worth it?"
    landshark

    You are right that it sounds like he could have just gone in the house and waited for the police in relative saftey. If they guy forced his way in and then McNeil shot him, it would be a different story. Depending on the threat, he could have been justified shooting him outside, but who knows what really happened. It wasn't over property though/

  • RM24 Feb 11, 10:57 a.m.

    However if a man has a gun and ask you to leave his property, I say it's a good idea to leave! To stay should let everyone know that you have a severe disturbance! Shooting seems justified in this case! Unfortunately he was freed for the wrong reason! His race has nothing to do with his guilt nor innocence ! Glad he's free! Lesson is if your trespassing and asked to leave then u should do it! And if they have a gun you better do it in a hurry!

  • RM24 Feb 11, 10:50 a.m.

    Of course, the guy was black, and therefore it becomes a case of "injustice" if any punishment is rendered.....
    aetius476

    The shooting in PineLevel sounds more like this case! However there, a white man got 7 yrs for shooting someone who would not leave his property! So it's not only race!

  • concerncitizen Feb 11, 10:47 a.m.

    Right about now The McNeil family wishes they had done the smart thing back in 2005? Mr. McNeil should have gathered up his family and gone into his home and called the police. When will people learn. Being right does not guarantee you will receive justice. He has given up so much over property! I would ask. Was it worth it?

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