John McNeil was convicted of murder in Cobb County in 2006
COBB COUNTY, Ga -- The NAACP is urging Georgia's Attorney General not to appeal a ruling by a Superior Court Judge that could free a man convicted of murder.
Attorney General Sam Olens received a petition from the NAACP with nearly 15,000 signatures of people who share the organization's position.
John McNeil, who was convicted of murder in 2006 in Cobb County, could be released from prison if Olens decides not to appeal. McNeil has served six years of a life sentence.
His wife told 11Alive News she is cautiously optimistic he will be released. "We still have a long journey in front of us, but right now we smile because we won," Anita McNeil said from her Wilson, N.C. home.
Baldwin County Superior Court Judge Hulane George ruled in favor of a motion filed by McNeil's attorney to free him. "It was a murder case but the circumstances didn't really shout out murder; they shouted out self-defense," said Attorney Mark Yurachek.
Judge George ruled there were serious errors made at McNeil's trial. She said the jurors were not properly instructed on a person's right to use force to defend himself, his home or another person from a violent attack.
In December 2005, John McNeil shot and killed Brian Epp in front of McNeil's Cobb County home. Initially, police ruled the shooting self-defense because Epp had threatened McNeil's son with a knife just before the shooting. But nine months later, in a complete turnaround, the Cobb County District attorney charged McNeil with murder.
McNeil's attorney said his client is just as reluctant as his wife. "He's happy, but he's been down this road before," Yurachek said. "So what he's trying to do is to stay even tempered about the matter."
The Attorney General could appeal Judge George's ruling to the State Supreme Court. He has 30 days to decide. If he doesn't appeal, McNeil will be released.
Yurachek said Cobb County District Attorney Pat Head could decide to re-try McNeil if he is released. "We are hopeful that they will see it the way we see it and that's the bottom line," he said.
Spokespersons for the Attorney General and Cobb County District Attorney said they could not comment on the case because it is pending.
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