For Immediate Release
August 23, 2011
For More Information: Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, 919-394-8137
Atty Al McSurely, Comm. Press & Publicity Chair, 919-682-4700
North Carolina NAACP Delegation Travels to Georgia
to Fight for Justice for John McNeil
The North Carolina and Georgia State Conferences of the NAACP, joined by the national NAACP, will hold a rally and press conference on August 24 to address the Georgia Supreme Court’s wrongful conviction of John McNeil. McNeil was sentenced to life in prison in 2006 after defending his teenage son, himself, and his home from Brian Epp, a white trespasser.
A rally and press conference will be held at 11:00 am, August 24 in front of the Old Cobb County Courthouse Building located at 30 Waddell Street in Marietta, Georgia to call for a review of McNeil’s sentence.Speakers will include National NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II and Mr. Ed Debose, the presidents of the North Carolina and Georgia NAACP State Conferences respectively, and Mrs. Anita McNeil – wife of John McNeil.
Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, in a powerful dissent to the Supreme Court’s decision to imprison Mr. McNeil for life, concluded that "no rational trier of fact could have found the absence of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt." Justice Sears’ conclusion relied upon evidentiary facts, including:
- The shooting occurred on McNeil’s property;
- McNeil never left his property;
- Epp was on a neighbor’s property when McNeil drove into his driveway;
- Epp left the neighbor’s property and crossed over the neighbor’s yard and onto McNeil’s property;
- Bobby Smith, a neutral witness, testified that McNeil was on his property and in his driveway when Epp began approaching him from the neighbor’s yard;
- Smith testified that McNeil fired a shot into the ground and verbally warned Epp not to come any closer;
- Smith testified that despite these warnings, Epp increased his speed in moving toward McNeil;
- McNeil’s son testified that Epp pulled a knife on him in his own backyard and that he told his father this;
- McNeil testified that Epp reached into his truck and put something in his right pocket before he rushed toward McNeil and onto his property;
- McNeil’s 911 call reported that Epp had pulled a knife on his son;
- The police retrieved a knife from Epp’s right pocket;
- White neighbors of the McNeils testified that Epp had behaved in an extremely aggressive manner toward them recently. Mr. David Samson testified that "it got to the point where my wife and I were in total fear of this man." They had even bought a gun to protect themselves.
[Justice Sears powerful dissent is contained in a brochure called "Justice for John McNeil," published by the NC NAACP.]
The McNeil family has deep roots in North Carolina. They were a Black family living in an affluent neighborhood in Cobb County, a suburb of Atlanta. Mr. McNeil was a successful businessman who was a dedicated husband and father who attended Elizabeth City State University.
"It is an in justice that in America, our courts will sentence a man to life in prison for defending his home, his family and himself in a situation such as is described by Justice Sears’ Dissent," said National NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. "John McNeil’s sentence must be reexamined. Every American has the right to defend their homes, their families and themselves when an armed trespasser comes onto their property and threatens them."
"The actions of John McNeil were in self defense and in defense of his family and his home. I am a minister, and I am strongly against the use of violence. But John’s act were not premeditated, indiscriminate violence–they were the acts of a responsible father, husband and property owner," stated Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, NC NAACP State Conference President. "What happened to John McNeil in the Georgia courts is a cynical miscarriage of justice that must be overturned. His conviction and life sentence should convince every person of goodwill that we are sentenced to a life of struggle to dismantle the racism deeply rooted in our criminal justice system. If it can happen to John McNeil, it could happen to any of us."
"After reviewing all the evidence in the John McNeil case, I am convinced that McNeil’s only crime is that of being Black," stated Ed Dubose, NAACP Georgia State Conference President. "The fact that a black homeowner, on his own property, defending his son from a trespasser reportedly wielding a knife could be given a life sentence is a grim reminder of how unequal the scales of justice really are. We will continue in the fight for Mr. McNeil and his family until justice prevails."
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.