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A Black Man Given a Life Sentence for Defending his Home
“Stand your Ground” laws might be problematic, but surely we have a right to protect our home? So why was John McNeil sentenced to life in prison when he killed an intruder to his home? NAACP president and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous is fighting to protect that right and to establishing McNeil’s innocence, who may have been charged with murder unfairly for being black.
John McNeil, 46, was leading a successful life; he had no criminal record, he volunteered in his community, he was a college graduate, and he was a family man. His trouble started when a man he formerly gave contract work to, whom other hires claimed seemed dangerous, trespassed on McNeil’s property threatening his son with a knife. The man, Brian Epp, had given him difficulties in the past. When McNeil came home, Epp refused to leave, and when McNeil fired a warning shot from his gun, Epp charged him, reaching for the knife in his pocket. A shot to the head ended the threatening charge, and also Epp’s life.
McNeil wasn’t charged for what was clearly a case of self-defense. Georgia has a “castle doctrine” law that makes such cases clear: you may use deadly force to protect your home from violent trespassers.
Nevertheless, Pat Head of the Cobb County Sherriff’s office sought prosecution a year later. Though fellow contractors, themselves white, testified to Epp’s dangerous character, and though law-enforcement witnesses, also white, testified to McNeil’s innocence, he was nevertheless found guilty and given a life sentence.
Jealous is keen on getting McNeil some form of freedom very soon, as McNeil’s wife, Anita, has terminal cancer, and hasn’t seen him in two years. If she doesn’t see him soon, they may both lose that chance.
“It is very possible that John McNeil’s wife could die while he’s still trying to clear his name,” said Jealous. She will now be flying down here with her mayor, who has arranged special transportation so that she could see her husband for what may be the last time.”
“As long as John McNeil is behind bars, it is not safe for a black person to defend their family and their home in the state of Georgia,” Jealous told in an interview with The Root.
“Yes, this is about a white DA who did the wrong thing. But he overrode two white detectives who did the right thing,” he further explained.
The difference between this and the notorious ‘Stand your ground’ law that has set George Zimmerman in his imbroglio is that Castle Doctrine has less temptation to racial profiling.
“‘Stand your ground’ laws are so broad that they allow people to racially profile with deadly force anywhere,” Jealous explained. “The basic difference is that [the castle-doctrine law] allows you to protect your home. ['Stand your ground'] allows you to appoint yourself vigilante-in-chief. And that’s what Zimmerman did.” Self-defense, he explained, is nothing the NAACP disputes.