Local News

NAACP picks up fight to free Wilson native from Georgia prison

Posted September 12, 2012 6:19 p.m. EDT
Updated September 13, 2012 7:35 a.m. EDT

— The NAACP is getting involved in the case of a Wilson native who has served more than five years in a Georgia prison for a killing that he maintains was self-defense.

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.

"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. "The Castle Doctrine doesn't appear to apply to him. In Georgia, a black man's home is not a castle. His home means nothing before the law."

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.

Barber, Georgia NAACP President Ed DuBose and national NAACP President Ben Jealous visited McNeil at Macon State Prison on Monday, and DuBose arranged for McNeil's wife to visit him on Wednesday.

Anita McNeil, who has since moved back to Wilson, flew to Georgia on a flight arranged by Wilson Mayor Bruce Rose and local business owner Jeff Chesson.

The trip marked the first time she has seen her husband in two years. In that time, his mother has died, and Anita McNeil has suffered a recurrence of breast cancer, with the illness spreading to her liver and lungs.

"I'm not only fighting for my husband, but I'm fighting for the homeowner who should have the right to protect their home, for the father who should have the right to go home to make sure that his child is safe and for John, who I know wouldn't have hurt anybody unless he really felt his life was threatened," she said.

NAACP officials said they are concerned that Anita McNeil might not live long enough to see the fight to free her husband through to the end.