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John McNeil walks out of Georgia prison
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John McNeil walks out of Georgia prison

MARIETTA, Ga. — With few words, surrounded by supporters and walking arm-in-arm with family friend Frank Jones and the Rev. William Barber, North Carolina NAACP president, John McNeil walked out of a Georgia prison Tuesday afternoon.

McNeil had served six years of a life sentence.

A Wilson native, McNeil was convicted of murder in 2005 for the shooting death of Brian Epp, the contractor who worked on McNeil’s family home.

McNeil walked into the Cobb County superior courtroom around 9:30 a.m. in an orange jumpsuit with shackles on his hands and feet. He pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.

Hours later, McNeil left the prison system looking more like a businessman wearing a charcoal-gray suit, white shirt and black dress shoes.

When a host of reporters rushed up to him and asked how he felt, he didn’t smile.

"Grieving for my wife’s death and my mom’s death, so just a sad time for me right now,” McNeil said.

He said he hadn’t had time to even think whether there was a sense of relief.

But he knew what he wanted to do first.

Related article:

Emotions run high as Wilson native begins journey home
"Breathe, freedom,” McNeil said. "That’s the first thing I want to do.”



The hearing Tuesday morning only took 35 minutes, but advocates like Jones said they have been working on McNeil’s freedom for years.

Before Epp’s shooting, McNeil had no criminal record.

McNeil pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. In the negotiated agreement, McNeil will get time served for his more than six years in prison. He will serve 13 years of probation.

McNeil will be able to serve his probationary time in North Carolina instead of Georgia, which is unusual since the incident occurred in Georgia. McNeil was told that as part of his probation, he will not be able to leave North Carolina. McNeil will have to pay, as part of the probation, $75 per month to begin in 60 days. He can have no contact with the Epp family.

McNeil’s attorney, Mark Yuracheck, filed a habeas corpus motion asking for a new trial, and it was granted. The Georgia attorney general filed an appeal, and both sides were waiting to go before the Georgia Supreme Court to see if they would uphold or deny the motion.

Now that McNeil has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, that takes away the possibility of getting a new trial.

"We’re not happy that John has to take this plea because we know he was protecting his family — he is not guilty,” Jones said.

Some Epp family members sat quietly in the courtroom, but Brian Epp’s wife, Kerry, decided not to come to the proceedings from her Florida home, according to Cobb County Assistant District Attorney Jesse Edwards.

"We initially contacted her to tell her about the unfortunate turn of events with the habeas court, and we did talk with her at the outset about the possibility of resolving this case with a plea,” Edwards told the court. "While I think she would tell the court if she were here that she would be fine with the voluntary manslaughter plea, she is not terribly satisfied with the results we bring before the courts today.”



The Epp family declined to speak after the proceedings.

"This case has garnered some attention over the years as you may have gathered from the media in the courtroom,” Edwards said. "We are here today to finally resolve this case with a negotiated guilty plea.”

Edwards told Cobb County Superior Court Judge Gregory Poole that what happened on Dec. 6, 2005, the day of the shooting, was largely undisputed on both sides.

Edwards told Poole that McNeil got a call from his son, LaRon McNeil, telling him there was an intruder, and that McNeil called 911 for help.

According to Edwards, Epp was on the property next door that he was building when McNeil drove up to his own home. He said McNeil recognized the man as his builder and told the 911 operator so. Edwards then told the court that McNeil removed a semi-automatic gun from the box that was in the glove compartment.

Edwards said McNeil loaded a magazine into the weapon, chambered a round and then got out of his car.

"There was an eyewitness directly across the street — this eyewitness reported and testified that he heard arguing between the two men,” Edwards said. "The defendant fired two shots in this case. One admittedly into the ground — another was fired at Epp’s head as Epp approached the defendant in his driveway.”

Edwards said that McNeil asked for a speedy trial.

"As you know, that necessitates that the state has to try the case within a certain period of time, otherwise there will be an automatic acquittal,” Edwards said to Poole. "So because of that we did just that — tried the case and the defendant was convicted, in large part, because of the speedy trial mandate to get filed and his other choices in the case.”

Edwards said McNeil did admit shooting Epp, but said he did so in self-defense.

Edwards pointed out that while McNeil had been found guilty of felony murder and aggravated assault, he was acquitted of malicious murder and of voluntary manslaughter, the very plea he accepted Tuesday.

Edwards called the habeas court order "misguided,” but also said he didn’t want to have to retry the case if the supreme court upheld the order. He said waiting on that decision means there is uncertainty.

"This plea today will bring certainty and finality to the case, and the state believes it is time to put this case to rest…” Edwards said.



Both McNeil and his attorney stood quietly through the proceedings.

Poole asked Yuracheck if he had anything to say.

"I’d like to disagree with some of Mr. Evans’ adjectives,” Yuracheck told the judge.

"I don’t consider it unfortunate, nor did I consider it a misguided decision by the habeas court. But that is obvious because I am standing on this side and he is standing on the other side.”

Advocates contend McNeil’s conviction should have been overturned.

Poole said the court proceeding was an unusual circumstance.

He told McNeil that although he knows the district attorney’s office and his own attorney had asked him, he was going to ask the same questions again in open court.

"A promise I want you to make to me is if I say or read anything you don’t understand, that you stop me — don’t be shy and don’t be embarrassed,” Poole said. "Just get my attention, because I want to make sure you understand everything I say — whether it’s the rights or the sentence.”

Poole told Edwards and Yuracheck that although the circumstances were unusual, he thought the case before him makes sense, and he would go along with it.

Vic Reynolds, Cobb County district attorney, said Yuracheck approached him after he took office in January.

"He approached me Jan. 15, and we resolved it in a three-week time period,” Reynolds said. "It was a difficult process and a lot of hurt feelings. Any time there is a loss of life, it is extremely difficult to balance that. In the end, we believe we did what was appropriate and we served justice.”

Yuracheck said he has been working on the case for two years.

"This is not a clear victory — nobody wins,” Yuracheck said after the hearing. "What everybody needs to realize is that everybody walked out of that courtroom with tears in their eyes today.”

Yuracheck said McNeil lost a lot in this process, including his wife, Anita, who recently died of cancer. He said he tried to get McNeil home to Anita, but things just didn’t work out in time.

"I’m not celebrating John giving up seven years of his life coming to this day and not have a chance to be with his wife,” Yuracheck said. "I am happy for John, I really am. But nobody should be under the impression there is cause for celebration.”

Yuracheck said it is just an ending.

"Manslaughter is the justice that was available,” Yuracheck said. | 265-7847
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Taranata said...

Why can't people see the truth about this? It's about whether a black man has the right to defend himself and his family. Apparently some of you think he should have taken a wait-and-see attitude. Wait and see until what? Until the armed trespasser did actual physical harm to him and his family?
Why are the pro-gun people so silent about John McNeil's rights?

Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 6:12 PM
@ get real said...

1. When your adrenaline is pumpimg ANY shot that is a hit is a blessing. Now using a hand gun to aim out shots at legs and extremities under duress is asking alot. Therefore aiming for the torso or largest area of the body would be the ideal place to aim. Plus a bullet to the femoral artery (located in the leg) is a sure way to bleed out and die. Plus if a person advances on you after a warning shot, anything after that is fair game their intention is clearly to harm you. Im sure you have extensive knowlege of firing on people and being able to hit a leg or a foot with a handgun though, dont you? Thats what I thought. SHHHHHHH

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 2:52 PM
Get real! said...

Whoever was being threatened, no one had to shoot to kill. A shot to the foot or leg would have been enough, and there'd have been no murder charge.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 11:57 AM
@ leroy said...

What does this have to do with Bush? Go check your gun cabinent...ok are you back? Did Obama take anything? NO! And he won't! So chill out and stop being so scared!!!

Monday, February 18, 2013 at 1:05 PM
Really?*? said...

Really? all this fuss? Smh

Friday, February 15, 2013 at 9:24 AM
Glad said...

So glad he is home. Folks if your kid was being threatened by an adult and after being told to stop and kept approaching after a warning shot was fired, what would you have done? I understand his plea. He knows he is innocent and he knows the people that know him know it. So he did what it took to come home. Too sad his wife and mother did not see it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 8:30 PM Hmm said...

Let's talk about guns and alternatives to crime contol. Several years ago, my neighbor's home was broken into around 5 a.m. She lived alone and awoke to a strange man trying to assault her. She fought him off and he ran, thank goodness. If she had a gun, she wouldn't have been able to use it and thankfully, he wasn't armed with a gun or a knife. What I learned, however, was a real eye-opener. Our two houses were identical. She lived two doors from me and both of us were single women. When I moved into my house, first thing I did was install dead bolts. She did not...the intruder had an easy time of getting in her back door while she slept. I installed an alarm system with a panic button in three places in the home (one next to my bed). Anyone entering would set off the alarm and CPI would be on the intercom within seconds. I installed bright lighting, including sensors near the doors - installed too high for someone to reach up and turn out the light (her intruder took the lightbulb out). She will have to live with a traumatic experience the rest of her life, but she's alive (and so is he ...the police got him). She could've done some very simple things to thwart intruders, but she chose not to. Money was not a problem for her. There are alternatives to guns when it comes to protecting one's self and family members. I play it smart by getting errands done in daylight hours, going out at night with at least one other person, parking near the entrance of stores, not being in isolated places, etc. Of course, one can't crime-proof themselves, with or without a gun. But there are smart alternatives that really haven't been discussed. I found having a security system to be a wonderful asset- if I was sick or sensed that someone might be lurking outside (even if it was just the wind), I could call the security system and they'd stay on the intercom while I checked. A friend of mine did the same when his alarm went off in the garage...when he looked out the window, he saw a blaze - CPI stayed on the intercom and heard him cry, "Fire!" The garage was on fire and when something fell, the alarm went off (BTW, sensors can be installed to detect glass being broken, example: an intruder breaking a window, etc). Perhaps a tax write-off for those who opt out of guns and choose a security system (with monthly fees being deductibles).Guns don't have to be the first resort in protecting one's self against home intruders? Today, I'm a senior living in a gated community and I pay a monthly fee for security officers. Just another alternative to owning a gun.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 8:20 PM Let's Get Real About It said...

In our system of jury "justice," a black guy with a gun is always considered guilty until proven innocent. Even if he is on his own property and defending his own family.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 5:22 PM you check the facts said...

he was in his own driveway

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 4:48 PM to here's the difference said...

McNeil was told by 911 dispatch to stay in his car and he refused... know the facts

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 2:20 PM just wondering said...

Some of you try to act like this convicted felon should be riding into town on a donkey with sandals on, healing the sick. He ain't all that!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 12:29 PM Hmmm said...

To those against gun control and President Obama. Last I checked, it was the state of Georgia that punished McNeill for using his gun. So, have your guns - but be prepared to be arrested and sent to prison, unfairly or not, if you choose to use one. We're a family without guns and choose to live with an alarm system instead. Less risk of prison time and killing someone, whether in the right or wrong. Glad that McNeill is out of prison. Took too long.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 12:06 PM here's the difference said...

McNeil shot a man in his own driveway. Zimmermin shot a kid that he stalked on a public street and was told NOT to follow by 911 dispatch. He picked a fight,got his butt whooped and couldn't deal with it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 11:56 AM MsSassy said...

Being FREE is not a felony nor probation time connected to your name. Why except this plea bargain IF you are innocent. I rather be in jail saying I'm free than out with all these stipulations! If a crime happens close to his neighborhood you know who LE will pin it too! Well all I can say is he is back in town but in truth he is not really FREE!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 9:30 AM To the truth said...

Tell us why? That is ridiculous! Sad so very sad. Just makes me sick that its always a race thing. Grow up people. He was set free..correct? Move on.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 8:07 AM wants to know said...

To "the Truth", please tell us WHY he was convicted. You all make me sick, trying to act like he was so innocent. You all seem to forget, even though murder charges were dimissed, and I think you know why, he is still a convicted felon. Woe is me.............

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 7:26 AM keep the faith said...

this lady fought a good fight for herself and her husband. i dont know too many women who would have stood by there spouse as she did, she has made a strong beleiver in me. if you want something sometimes you have to give it a good fight and beleive in what you are doing and always pray. this story has touch me in many different ways to me it was about keeping faith and never giving up when life throws certain things at you. i went to school with john and knew him didnt know his wife but i will always remember anita mcneil and what she fought for

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 2:08 AM To Confused said...

Because he was granted a new trial under HIS appeal but the State then appealed that decision. It could take year for a decision to be made whether to uphold the appeal or deny it to a higher court. Why would he want to stay in prison for 1 to 5 more years awaiting THAT decision when he has already lost so much and has a chance to put this behind him finally.... That sounds logical to me... JMO

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 12:04 AM R.I.P. Brian Epp said...

May Brian Epp rest in peace! this man never saw true justice for his life that was taken away from him.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 11:21 PM Former Teacher said...

Peace be with you, John. May your life be blessed from this point forward.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 8:26 PM Confused.... said...

If offered a second trial why not plea not guilty and have another trial ? And to receive 13 years probation ? It still doesnt sound right to me ....jmo

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 8:04 PM The Truth said...

What the Georgia judicial system did to the McNeil family is appalling. John McNeil was defending his family. But I think we all know why he was convicted...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 6:24 PM said...

He is such a humble guy. He was only defending his family. He is so cute, just like he looked as a little kid. God bless him.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 5:15 PM Old school said...

This is a nice guy. His family from wayyyyyyyyyyyy back was hard working and raised this child to be decent and hard working. I know his great grand father and he raised his sons with a strong hand. I am glad that he is free. I am sorry that his wife did not live to see this day. She too was raised in church and had great faith. She was dedicated to her husband to her end. Thank you Wilson times for your follow up on this.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 5:12 PM tom said...

just what we needed. another jury convicted murderer walking around town

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 5:09 PM joe said...

zimmerman had fractured skull and broken nose but this was not self defense. come on folks. race???

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 5:05 PM george zimmermin said...

well said leroy. wish bush was in office when i defended myself.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 5:03 PM Yogi said...

Leroy and others....
Apparently you have all got the wrong idea about gun control. Nobody is trying to keep honest, law abiding citizens from obtaining firearms. Gun control is about keeping them out of the hands of those that have no business possessing a gun. From what I have read, the McNiel's were fine, upstanding citizens and none of the proposed laws would have forbade Mr. McNiel from purchasing a firearm. Please get yourself informed before you rant and rave and make yourselves look like uneducated idiots.
Glad for Mr. McNiel finally receiving freedom, although it is a little too late and nothing can bring those lost years back, time he could have spent with his loving wife.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 4:38 PM The system said...

gave into polictical pressure again. nuff said

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 4:25 PM george zimmermins family said...

rev. barber could you please help us

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 4:18 PM leroy said...

im glad tha rev. barber and naacp dont suppory obama cause he is for gun control. if obama had his way mcniel would not have had a gun and he would be dead. good thing this happened when Bush was president.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 3:57 PM Thank God!!! said...

Glad you are on your way back to Wilson, North Carolina. You are not coming back fully exonerated but we'll take what we can for the moment. Sorry you couldn't have been with Anita before and when she died, but she knew that God was going to see to it that you came home to be with your sons who really do need you. I'm praying for you and your family.
If he had been alive, I'm sure that Harvey Reid, Jr. would have been fighting as hard as anyone to help free you.
Your Elm City Supporters!!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 3:49 PM move on said...

OKAY. He is out. Can we see something else in the news, besides this? He was still convicted of a FELONY..........let's not forget that.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 3:35 PM Fike Class of 1986 said...

Welcome Home John! We all stand by you and support you... this is long overdue.... God Bless you and your family.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 1:34 PM josie jones said...

fantastic news!!!!!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 1:10 PM glad to hear it said...

I hope and pray he can move forward and have a happy life - good job for those who stood by him

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 12:29 PM Tabron said...

Somebody need to be shouting and praising God!!!!!!!!! Although he had to take that charge but God will turn it around all for his good.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 11:49 AM Brenda Locus said...

God is good all the time.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 11:30 AM LittleGirl said...

Its ok, that he had to do a plea deal. Its ok that he has a charge. Its not "right" but its ok because even with the unjust charge and conviction on his record, John will be ok. What he has gone through will only benefit his future. John, your latter is gonna be greater. Watch!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 11:27 AM
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