Protests growing concerning 2005 shooting case

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KENNESAW, Ga. — For years little attention was paid to the 2005 death of Brian Epp and the murder conviction of the man accused of killing him.

Bob Zellner, a civil rights activist and author, hands out  banners at the Freedom for John McNeil vigil Wednesday at Holy Calvary Church in Wilson, N.C.  FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Bob Zellner, a civil rights activist and author, hands out banners at the Freedom for John McNeil vigil Wednesday at Holy Calvary Church in Wilson, N.C.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports protests are now growing by those who believe the case was handled differently from similar ones because suspect John McNeil is black and Epp was white.

The shooting occurred in a Kennesaw subdivision. McNeil felt he was defending himself and his teenage son from the 43-year-old builder.

McNeil was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

The NAACP has protested that McNeil should have been protected by Georgia’s “defense of castle” doctrine. The NAACP feels the law was applied differently because McNeil was black.

“This is a case we really care about,” said Niaz Kasravi, the director of the national NAACP’s criminal justice program. “It’s something that fell off the radar for many people, and we’ve been able to bring it to the attention of people in a way it hasn’t been done.”

An online petition asks Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens not to challenge a judge’s decision that could free McNeil. Olens has until Oct. 26 to appeal.

But District Attorney Pat Head, Cobb County’s prosecutor since 1998, said a lot of information coming out about the case is inaccurate or exaggerated.

Head said race was not a factor in the decision to prosecute.

“I think anybody who knows me knows that’s an absolute lie” he said

A Cobb County jury of 10 whites and two blacks convicted McNeil in December 2006, and the Georgia Supreme Court upheld that conviction.

But on Sept. 26, a judge in Baldwin County, where McNeil was imprisoned at one time, ruled on an appeal that his lawyer made mistakes and jurors weren’t told some facts, including what rights McNeil had in defending his son and himself.

Epp’s widow, Kari Epp, is trying to keep news of the case from her two children. The family moved to Sarasota, Fla., soon after the shooting.

“They murdered my husband,” said Kari Epp. “The NAACP got behind McNeil and they are skewing things.”

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