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Wilson native in Ga. prison could go free Tuesday

Posted February 12, 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 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.

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  • free2bme Feb 12, 2013

    Homeowners should have the right to protect their home and family from this type of evil when it comes to their door. We know the real story here and why he spent one day in jail.

  • beach2011 Feb 12, 2013

    So glad he is getting out - but sad that his wife, who just died of breast cancer, will not see it. She faught for him and she is the reason he is being released!!

  • Supie Feb 12, 2013

    sounds like a tragedy for John McNeil and for his family. Thank heavens McNeil's son will have him now that McNeil's wife has passed. Her spirit will be glad.

  • gabewilliams12 Feb 12, 2013

    This is such a sad story. His wife fought for his life and she lost hers. He will live forever knowing that his wife fought so hard for him. Good luck sir.

  • whatever02 Feb 12, 2013

    He did call 911. He also fired a warning shot into the gound. The guy kept coming after having put something in his pocket from iside his truck after threatening John's son with a box cutter. Neighbors confirmed his story, the police testified on his behalf. If someone comes to my home threatening my kid and threatening me with an unknown weapon, I would do the same. I normally think the NAACP overreacts and stirs the pot - I am glad they are involved in this (except for Anita's funeral - they had no place there).

  • UNC81 Feb 12, 2013

    This sort of thing seems to happen pretty often in Georgia. It's ridiculous that this man has spent a single day in prison.

  • smcallah Feb 12, 2013

    "For shooting a man dead who refused to leave his front yard?

    Why no call to 911, why not go into your house and lock the door? Why not run for help? Shooting a neighbor dead outside in your front yard?"

    You and your family shouldn't have to turn your back on a madman on your property that is threatening you with a knife. He chose to come to your house and if you have the means to defend yourself you should be able to chose that option.

    The man with the gun didn't start the altercation, as the witnesses said. The home owner with the gun did not go looking for a fight.

    If you want to live, don't go to someone's house and threaten them with a weapon.

  • RM24 Feb 12, 2013

    75Tarheel: Why not wait until you are stabbed ?

  • kikinc Feb 12, 2013

    My sister went to college in Kennesaw and remembers when this happened. According to the local papers, the man had a history of threatening the McNeils and had confronted them numerous times. On the night he was killed, he was making a lot of threatening gestures with the box cutter, and was threatening to follow the family into the home. I don't know if this is truly what happened, but if so, I'd have shot him dead, too.

  • RM24 Feb 12, 2013

    Aetius476: I mean I guess he could have just shot himself and handed his son over to the man who wanted to harm his son too.

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