Defending the Castle

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  • Question: If a man threatens you and your family, pulls a knife on your teenage son on your front lawn and then, after you fire a warning shot to get him to leave your property, he charges at you while reaching for a weapon, do you have the right to defend yourself?
         
    Well, apparently not. Some of you may have heard about the case of John McNeil, the 46 year-old brother and Kennesaw, Georgia resident serving a life sentence for killing a white man trespassing on McNeil’s property.
         
    It all started back in December of 2005 when Brian Epp, a hired contractor whom the elder McNeil had a dispute with, pulled a knife on the McNeil’s teenaged son.
         
    Epp refused to leave McNeil’s property, so McNeil called 911 and fired a warning shot at the ground. That’s when Epp charged McNeil, reaching into his pocket for the knife. McNeil fatally shot him at close range.
         
    Now, my legal background tells me this appears to be a classic case of self-defense. Even more, the investigating officers did not charge McNeil, claiming he acted in self-defense.
         
    However, nearly a year later, Cobb County District Attorney Pat Head pursued a murder charge despite the conclusion of the police and won a jury verdict upheld by the Georgia Supreme Court.
         
    This despite the fact Kennesaw, Georgia happens to be a town really committed to the concept of self-defense. First, all homeowners are required to own a firearm and ammunition as a deterrent to crime. Second, a 30 year-old Castle Doctrine law allows the use of deadly force to protect one’s home, or anyone inside it, from a violent trespasser.
         
    And there’s more, because it would be so easy to think this is just a simple case of black and white in this white conservative town.
         
    This case is even more troubling given the fact that the predominantly white Kennesaw police department has consistently supported McNeil’s right to self-defense and that white neighbors, white eyewitnesses and white police officers all testified on McNeil’s behalf.
         
    According to NAACP reports, the Cobb County Sheriff's Office had to arrest McNeil because the Kennesaw Police Department refused to.
         
    So while there may certainly have been bias in the decision to prosecute McNeil, white officers and witnesses were the main ones saying that he was well justified in defending himself.
         
    Time for us to act folks. The NAACP has a petition you can sign at their site, naacp.org. The case is currently being reviewed a second time by a Georgia appellate court.
         
    And it’s even more urgent we free McNeil from prison given his wife, Anita, has been stricken with cancer. Prayers and best wishes go out to the entire McNeil family.
         
    I’ll close with this quote from NAACP President Ben Jealous:  "When it comes to protecting your home and your family, there is no law that can protect a black man from a biased system of justice."
         
    Until next time, this is Stephanie in love and hope.

    Click here to sign the NAACP's petition to get justice for John McNeil.

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