Wilson native in Ga. prison could go free Tuesday
Posted February 12, 2013
Wilson, N.C. — A Wilson native who has served more than five years in a Georgia prison for a killing that he maintains was self-defense could go free Tuesday morning following a hearing in a Cobb County courthouse.
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.
When he goes before a judge Tuesday, McNeil is expected to enter a plea to a lesser charge of manslaughter.
McNeil's potential release would come just two days after his wife, Anita, was laid to rest after losing a long battle with breast cancer that had spread to her bones. She died Feb. 2.
For years, even as she underwent chemotherapy for her second bout with cancer, Anita McNeil spoke out for the release of her husband.
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.