NAACP Calls for Release of Black Man Who Killed a White Man Claiming Self-Defense

The NAACP and other civil rights groups say the case of John McNeil was a legitimate example of a self-defense killing.

Posted: 09/10/2012 04:36 PM EDT
John McNeil

(Photo: NAACP.org)

The NAACP and a number of civil rights groups are calling for the release of a Black man in Georgia who was convicted of killing a white man who had broken into his home and threatened his son.

At the center of the controversy is John McNeil, a successful African-American businessman who in 2006 returned to his home to protect his son from Brian Epp, an armed trespasser on his property. 

After calling the police and firing a warning shot into the ground, as Epp approached him near the backdoor of his home, McNeil shot and killed Epp, who was white.

Despite the investigating officers' conclusion that McNeil did not commit a crime, the Cobb County district attorney’s office charged McNeil with murder, 274 days after the Epp's death.

Georgia is a leading gun rights state that has always followed the “Castle Doctrine,” which gives property owners the right to protect themselves with a weapon, without a duty to retreat, if they feel threatened on their own property. Nonetheless, McNeil was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

“Two white senior detectives interrogated John and both agreed that this was self-defense,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP, in a press conference attended by a number of leaders of civil rights organizations.

“But a district attorney who was running for re-election decided to prosecute John,” Jealous said. “It’s troubling to know that, when it comes to protecting your home, your family and your child, there is no law that can protect a Black man.”

McNeil initially called 911 to report the presence of an intruder. He then fired a warning shot to dissuade Epp from coming closer. However, McNeil said that Epp continued his approach and that he felt compelled to shoot him. Epp was found to have a folding knife in his pocket.

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