A Kennesaw man sentenced to life for defending his home was released from prison on Tuesday.
John McNeil agreed to a plea bargain and a charge of voluntary manslaughter in court.
On Dec. 6, 2005, McNeil shot Brian Epp in McNeil's front yard after Epp threatened his son with a box cutter and charged him with the weapon in his pocket.
McNeil was charged with murder and sentenced to life in prison 294 days after the incident.
On Sept. 25, 2012, a Georgia Superior Court judge granted McNeil's petition for habeas corpus based on ineffective counsel, noting that, among other things, McNeil's trial attorney "failed to request charges based on the theories of defense of habitation and/or defense of property."
The NAACP has been involved in this case on the state, local and national levels for years.
The Rev. William Barber is with the NAACP out of McNeil's home state of North Carolina. "He backed up, fired a warning shot and begged him to not come on anymore. The cops even said it was self-defense, an eyewitness said that," said Barber while explaining why McNeil should not have been arrested.
But McNeil's supporters were trying to forget about all that, at least for one day.
Erica Thomas is with a group called Speak Out Loud that has been involved with the fight. "It's bittersweet because he had to plead guilty to manslaughter, but I'm just excited for this day," said Thomas.
She's excited because for the first time in seven years, McNeil is a free man.
However, the excitement was muted because of the recent death of McNeil's wife to breast cancer.
The first thing McNeil said after walking out the door wasn't of joy, but of sadness. "I'm grieving for my wife's death and mom's death. It's just a sad time for me right now," said McNeil.
He said he hadn't even thought about any kind of relief, but he did talk about what he's looking forward to most.
"Breathe freedom. That's the first thing I want to do," said McNeil.
"It felt like someone was renewed, or rebirth. It's a new. That's how I felt on the inside and when he came out I just started crying. It's a new life for him," said Thomas.
But his supporters said the fight isn't over. Now they plan to focus their efforts to not only get the conviction removed from his record, but change the criminal justice system.
"It's long overdue but what it reflects is a system of how justice is applied," said Edward Dubose with Georgia's NAACP.
"We're glad he's going to be going home and we are waiting to take him home, but while he took a lesser plea, the criminal justice system is still under the greater conviction and still deeply guilty of injustice that all of us should fight," said Barber.
McNeil will remain on parole for 14 years.
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