Judge rules in favor of imprisoned Cobb man
by Ray Henry
Associated Press Writer
September 30, 2012 01:35 AM | 1275 views | 5 5 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
John McNeil
John McNeil
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ATLANTA — A Cobb County man convicted of murder could be released from prison after a judge ruled this week that legal mistakes were made at the trial that unfairly undercut his argument that the killing was justified.

Baldwin County Judge Hulane George ruled Tuesday in favor of a motion seeking the release of John McNeil. McNeil has been serving a life sentence after he was convicted of murder for the 2005 killing of Brian Epp.

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens has 30 days to decide whether to appeal to Georgia’s Supreme Court, otherwise McNeil will be released from custody. Olens spokeswoman Lauren Kane did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

McNeil never denied shooting Epp. He told Kennesaw police that Epp was belligerent and had threatened his son with a knife during an altercation just before the shooting. A witness testified that Epp came onto McNeil’s driveway, ignored a warning shot and charged at McNeil, who then fired a fatal shot.

The judge cited multiple errors at trial, including that the jury was not properly instructed on a person’s right to use force to defend himself, his home or another person from violent attack.

Among her criticisms, George said the original defense attorney on the case should have sought a jury instruction explaining the so-called castle doctrine, which allows residents to use force to repel a violent intruder. The judge noted that eyewitness testimony showed the fight between McNeil and Epp happened within yards of the side door to the home where McNeil’s son was hiding. Epp also had a knife.

“If the so-called ‘castle doctrine’ means anything, it is that a homeowner like McNeil, confronted with a hostile adversary with the clear intent to ‘offer personal violence’ to both him and his teenage son, can use deadly force when he is backed up to his home and that adversary is charging directly at him and reaching for a weapon, all after McNeil fire a warning shot in his immediate presence,” the judge wrote.

The NAACP and other civil rights groups had called for the release of McNeil, who is black. Epp was white. The civil rights groups have said the case proves that self-defense laws are not applied equally across the country.

The NAACP said Saturday it has sent Olens a petition signed by more than 14,500 people asking that he not appeal the case and let McNeil go free.

“This is the first step towards righting the wrong (that) Cobb County made when it prosecuted a father for defending his family on his own property,” NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a statement. “We are urging the state to not appeal this decision.”
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Cintor
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October 27, 2012
Here it is again...CLAIMING race was involved. It seems pretty clear that the right man (killer) is in jail! Of course, two fatherless children pays the final price...no father!
M Berger
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September 30, 2012
I am writing this letter in regard to the recently issued unconscionable ruling by the Honorable Hulane George. For some reason, which I can only assume is due to the incredulous and misguided political pressure of the NAACP, Judge George ruled for the release of convicted murderer John McNeil. A ruling that seems to directly override the November 3, 2008 ruling of the Supreme Court of Georgia.

Mr. McNeil was properly tried and convicted, a conviction which again was upheld by the Supreme Court of the State of Georgi, for the murder of Brian Epp (please see the attached documentation). It is my understanding that this misguided ruling was based off of the “castle doctrine, which essentially allows a property owner to defend themselves and their property from a violent intruder. The problem with granting Mr. McNeil his release based on this argument is that there was absolutely no evidence at trial supporting the fact that Mr. Epp was a “violent intruder.”

The facts are:

o Mr. Epp was a licensed contractor hired by Mr. McNeil to build a custom home.

o Mr. Epp was invited onto the property and in fact had an appointment set by Mr. McNeil at the property at the time of the murder. You cannot be an intruder if you are invited!

o Mr. Epp did not have a knife. The evidence at trial showed that the only weapon of any sort in Mr. Epp’s possession was a contractors knife / box cutter that was clipped to the inside of his pocket and only found by investigators after Mr. Epp was murdered in cold blood. At no time was this “weapon” ever possibly in view by Mr. McNeil as it never came out of Mr. Epp’s pocket.

o Mr. Epp did not threaten Mr. McNeil’s son, who by the way is a grown adult. In fact Mr. McNeil’s son was caught lying on the stand at the murder trial.

o The fact that the NAACP is making this a racial issue is laughable. Mr. Epp’s best friend and one of the speaker’s at his funeral is an African American. Furthermore, had Mr. Epp been racist in any way, shape, or form he never would have agreed to build a home for Mr. McNeil.

o The investigating officers and the courts have found that Mr. McNeil consistently lied about what actually happened and in fact that evidence proves that this was a premeditated murder.

o The investigating officers and the courts have found that the castle doctrine does not apply in this instance so how is it that a local county judge thinks he knows more than the Supreme Court of the state.

Mr. Jealous of the NAACP has been quoted as saying that “this is the first step towards righting the wrong that Cobb County made when it prosecuted a father for defending his family on his own property.” The only wrong committed in this case was that Mr. McNeil murdered Mr. Epp in cold blood. Mr. McNeil and his son lied about the events that took place (see attached supporting evidence from the trial). Mr. McNeil made a choice to take the life of a man who had a wife and two children, ages 2 and 5 at the time, who now must grow up without their father.

Mr. McNeil is a cold-blooded killer. He shot Mr. Epp (with hollow point bullets I might add) for no reason whatsoever. We will never know the true reason for the murder, but we do know that Mr. Epp did not threaten Mr. McNeil nor did he threaten his son. We also know that Mr. Epp’s children will never know their father and that his widow is now forced to raise them on her own. The McNeil’s family, the NAACP and the press seem to want to make this a case about Mr. McNeil defending his “son,” yet interestingly no one ever points out that his son was a grown adult at the time of the murder. His son, had there in fact been an incident (which the evidence showed there was none), could have easily defended himself.

I am not sure why a reporter from an esteemed organization such as the AP would write such a one sided article distorting the facts, but I do wonder who is going to investigate why the NAACP is involved in this case and why local judge would see fit to decide on his own that the Supreme Court was wrong in their ruling. I am not sure what Judge Hulane was contemplating when he made this ruling but I strongly urge the State of Georgia to overturn this ridiculous decision. Once again, this case was tried and Mr. McNeil was convicted. That conviction was withheld by the Supreme Court and now a county judge thinks he knows better. There is no reason whatsoever that this should need to go to trial yet again. The Epp family does not need to deal with the reopening of these wounds! John McNeil is a killer who deserves to be right were he is.

J G
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September 30, 2012
This article is a joke and was poorly researched or intentionally skewed to meet the agenda of the NAACP. Epp was the contractor for McNeil. Epp was asked by McNeil to come over for an appointment. He was NOT an "intruder" as stated.

The son was NEVER attacked or threatened with a knife.

McNeils "young" son was actually a grown adult.

The REAL shame is that convicted murderer McNeil left Epps wife with a fatherless toddlers ages 2 and 5.

The question should be - How will McNeil right this wrong?
M Georgi
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September 30, 2012
Check your facts. There was no knife. Epp had a contractors cutter that was clipped inside his pocket and never removed!
J Raybon
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September 30, 2012
Shame on you for making this a race story. You fail to mention that Epps best friend was an African American and testified at the trial. Epp was the builder for the convicted murderer so he obviously was not a racist!
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