John McNeil, left, smiles as he hears he will be able to travel to Wilson after his release from a Georgia state prison, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013 in Marietta, Ga. McNeil was expected to be freed from the Cobb County Jail Tuesday afternoon, almost seven years after authorities say he shot a contractor outside his suburban Atlanta home. McNeil's wife and NAACP leaders in Georgia and North Carolina waged a public relations campaign for his freedom after a Baldwin County judge ruled he was entitled to a new trial. McNeil has been serving a life sentence after he was convicted in the 2005 killing of Brian Epp. Photo/Gray Whitley | Times (AP Photo)
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Anita McNeil died 10 days earlier from breast cancer, after years of fighting for her husband's release from a life sentence for the 2005 slaying of a White man who McNeil claimed had threatened his son and posed an imminent threat to his home.
Walking out of the Cobb County Adult Detention center just before 2 p.m., McNeil told reporters his initial goal was to "breathe freedom," according the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But, his joy at his release was swamped in grief over the loss of his wife, he added.
"This has been a sad time for me," he said.
McNeil agreed in a plea bargain to a charge of voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to seven years in prison and 13 years probation on the manslaughter charge, but was credited for time served and released.
"While we would have preferred John to be exonerated based on self-defense, we are thankful that he can return home to be with his two sons and start his life over," said NAACP Board Chairman Roslyn Brock in a statement. "His release today is a bittersweet victory because he also returns home in sorrow following the recent death of his loving wife Anita who fought for his release until her last breath."
In 2006, McNeil was sentenced to life for shooting contractor Brian Epp on his property after Epp threatened his son with a box cutter and charged at McNeil with the weapon in his pocket. Witnesses said Epp was the aggressor, and the investigating police officers concluded that McNeil had not committed a crime. But, 294 days later, he was charged, convicted and sent to prison.
The NAACP championed McNeil's cause, saying his case was an example of how "stand your ground" laws, as a legal defense, were unfairly applied to Black defendants compared to Whites.
Source: Afro.com | Zenitha Prince