In December of 2005, John McNeil shot and killed Brian Epp, a contractor who had been working on the McNeil family home.
McNeil’s son claimed Epp had threatened him with a knife, so he called his dad.
“He said somebody’s trespassing on our property. He pulled a knife on my son,” McNeil told a 911 operator as he raced home.
When he arrived, he found Epp still on his property. Epp moved towards him and McNeil fired a warning shot into the ground. Then he shot him in the head. McNeil claimed self-defense.
Almost a year after the shooting, a grand jury ruled to charge McNeil with murder. He pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
The case, which centers around a black man killing a white man, became a rallying cry for civil rights leaders who questioned whether the implementation of self-defense laws is inherently biased.
“Is the world to believe that you cannot protect your children and your property… if you are a black man in Georgia?” Ben Jealous, CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said.
They insisted McNeil should have been protected by what’s known as the castle doctrine – a legal protection for people who use deadly force on their own property if threatened with deadly force.
Prosecutor Pat Head said race had nothing to do with his decision to try McNeil for murder.
“This isn’t a Stand Your Ground case,” he said. “This is a case where McNeil said he was going there to whip his ass, so got a gun out and then shot him. He did exactly what he said he was going to do. Killed him.”
Last fall, however, an appeals judge ruled in favor of releasing McNeil, citing multiple errors at trial – including improper instruction to the jury about the castle doctrine. Jurors were also not informed about Epps’ criminal record.
The Attorney General pushed back, but the state ultimately agreed to a plea bargain with McNeil. He was released on time served, 7 years, plus 13 years probation.
Monday on Raising America with Kyra Phillips, McNeil will explain the impact the case had on his family at 12 p.m. ET. Was he treated fairly under the law? And what role did race play – if any - in his prosecution and conviction? We’ll discuss today on HLN. Tweet @ KyraHLN with the # RaisingAmerica hashtag or leave your thoughts on Facebook.com.