John McNeil holding Q&A session at library Wednesday

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.


John McNeil will answer questions about his book and experience during a question-and-answer session at the Wilson County Public Library from 6 to 8 p.m today.

In April, the Wilson native debuted his book, “Breathe Freedom: The John McNeil Story,” which explores how the criminal justice system robbed him of several years of his life and the fight that ensued to free him from a Georgia prison in 2013 with community members’ help.

The event is free and open to the public and will be held in the main library’s assembly room. The book delves into his case.

McNeil was sentenced to life in prison in Georgia after he fatally shot a man who had trespassed onto his property and threatened both him and his son with a knife in his backyard in 2005. McNeil was freed in 2013 after serving more than six years of a life sentence following a grassroots campaign led by his late wife, Anita, who died of cancer 10 days prior to his release, as well as the NAACP and many Wilson leaders.

McNeil and his supporters contend he should have never been prosecuted for shooting Brian Epp in his yard that day in 2005. McNeil had warned Epp to back away and leave his home after he and his son were threatened that day. McNeil, who is black, fired a warning shot, but Epp, who was white, lunged forward at McNeil, who fired a second shot. Authorities found that McNeil acted in self-defense after interviewing him, his son and an eyewitness who corroborated the account. But nearly a year later, the district attorney in the Georgia town charged McNeil with murder, all which is detailed in the book.

Police testified on McNeil’s behalf during the trial. McNeil was a successful businessman in Georgia at the time. He had just purchased the home, which was situated in an affluent, predominantly white neighborhood.

McNeil currently works with adjudicated youth at the Daniels Learning Center.