WILSON, N.C. — North Carolina NAACP leaders spoke out Friday in support of a Wilson man who they say was protecting himself and his son when he shot and killed a man outside his home in Georgia in 2005.
At a news conference on the courthouse steps in Wilson, the leaders of the state and Wilson NAACP chapters said they believe the justice system is treating John McNeil differently than it does white people who defend their homes.
“The McNeil case ought to concern all of us – black, white, Latino – anybody concerned about justice,” said the Rev. William Barber, the president of the state NAACP. “It’s a prime example of the age‑old unequal justice in the court system.”
The NAACP said Brian Epp was armed and had threatened McNeill’s son just before the shooting. McNeil has said he had little choice but to fire when Epp charged at him with a knife during the December 2005 shouting match in Cobb County.
However, the victim’s knife was found in his pocket after the shooting, and prosecutors decided to charge McNeil with murder.
He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, a decision the Georgia Supreme Court later affirmed in a 6-1 ruling.
The lone dissent came from then-Justice Leah Ward Sears, who argued that prosecutors failed to prove McNeil wasn’t defending himself.
McNeil’s wife, Anita, who’s been diagnosed with cancer, said Friday that she and their two sons are devastated.
“John is incarcerated today because he chose to use his rights as a homeowner,” she said.
An attorney has appealed McNeil’s conviction and is seeking a new trial, his supporters said.
Cobb County District Attorney Pat Head stands by the decision to charge McNeil. He said in May that the case is a reminder of the potential pitfalls of self-defense arguments.
“Just because someone hits you in the face doesn’t mean you pull a .45 and shoot him in the head,” he said. “It can be hard to prove
it’s self-defense because the jury puts themselves in the same footing as anybody else.”