Man freed from Georgia prison speaks to media

February 13, 2013 2:29:18 PM PST
A judge in Cobb County, Ga. ordered John McNeill set free Tuesday - ending years of wrangling over the life sentence he received for shooting a man to death.

The Wilson native and his wife were building a home in Atlanta in 2005 when he shot and killed Brian Epp, who was a contractor working on the house.

The men had been arguing for months over the construction of the home.

Despite an eyewitness who said Epp attacked McNeil with a knife and police testimony that McNeil acted in self-defense, he was convicted of murder.

Georgia did not have a stand your ground type law at the time of the shooting. The state legislature approved one a year later.

Last year, a judge ruled mistakes were made at McNeill's original trial. At a hearing Tuesday, McNeil entered a guilty plea to a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

The judge sentenced him to 20 years with credit for seven years time served. He was to be released later Tuesday. McNeil will remain on probation for 13 years.

"I just want to breathe freedom," McNeil said on his release.

It was great news for his family.

"At a loss for words, just happy to that my brother is able to come home after this long journey," said brother Ronald McNeil.

The NAACP, which has campaigned for McNeil's release, expressed satisfaction at the outcome of his case.

"Though we would rather have seen John exonerated based on self defense - we still believe that should have been the case - we are thankful that he is able to return home," said North Carolina NAACP President William Barber after the hearing.

McNeil's release does not come in time for his wife to welcome him home. Anita McNeil lost her fight with cancer and was laid to rest this past weekend.

McNeil returned to Wilson early Wednesday.

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