The national office of the NAACP was informed by the North Carolina NAACP State Conference that Anita McNeil, the wife of John McNeil and the biggest advocate for his freedom from an unjust murder sentence, passed away Saturday.
Anita McNeil was fighting her second bout with cancer. She had continued traveling and speaking out for her husband’s freedom even as she underwent chemotherapy. Anita last saw her husband in September 2012, when she was able to spend three hours with him, eighteen months after their previous visit.
“Anita’s love for her husband knew no limits, and she was relentless in her campaign for his freedom,” said NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock. “Even as she battled illness she shone with the radiance of her righteous cause. Her energy was enough to reduce an audience to tears and then lift them back up again determined to join her fight to secure justice for her husband John McNeil.”
“Anita was a woman of boundless faith,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “She had no doubt that the arc of the universe would bend toward justice for her husband. We will carry on the torch of her passion and double down on our demand for John McNeil’s freedom.”
“Our warrior sister, Anita, has transitioned to be with God,” said NAACP North Carolina State Conference President Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II. “I had just prayed with her and the family. We told her we all loved her and were better because we knew her. She could not talk back, but I’m confident she heard it in the spirit. Now as she reigns with the angels, let us imitate her courage and strength and commitment to do right until our day comes.”
“This is a sad day,” said NAACP Georgia State Conference President Edward Dubose. “Anita spent her later years with a singular dedication to righting the wrong that had been done to her husband. She would have wanted us to continue her virtuous campaign. Though we lost a brave soul this weekend, we are dedicating to freeing that soul’s counterpart here on Earth, John McNeil.”
In 2006, McNeil was convicted of shooting Brian Epp on his property after Mr. Epp threatened his son with a box cutter and charged at John, with the weapon in his pocket. The investigating officers concluded that McNeil did not commit a crime, but 294 days after the incident McNeil was charged with murder and sentenced to life in prison.
The campaign for John McNeil’s freedom was begun by his local NAACP branch in Wilson, NC, which convinced the North Carolina NAACP, Georgia NAACP State Conference, Cobb County NAACP and national NAACP to take up the fight.
On Sept. 25, a Georgia Superior Court Judge granted McNeil’s petition for habeas corpus based on ineffective counsel, noting that, among other things, the trial attorney, “failed to request charges based on the theories of defense of habitation and/or defense of property.” But Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens appealed the ruling and McNeil remains in prison.