John McNeil

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Assuming the details here are accurate, this case is an outrage.

It all began in early 2005, when McNeil and his wife, Anita, hired Brian Epp’s construction company to build a new house in Cobb County, Ga. The McNeils testified that Epp was difficult to work with, which led to heated confrontations. They eventually decided to close on the house early to rid their lives of Epp, whom they found increasingly threatening. At the closing, both parties agreed that Epp would have 10 days to complete the work, after which he would stay away from the property, but he failed to keep up his end of the bargain.

On Dec. 6, 2005, John McNeil’s 15-year-old son, La’Ron, notified his dad over the phone that a man he didn’t recognize was lurking in the backyard. When La’Ron told the man to leave, an argument broke out. McNeil was still on the phone and immediately recognized Epp’s voice. According to La’Ron’s testimony, Epp pointed a folding utility knife at La’Ron’s face and said, “[w]hy don’t you make me leave?” at which point McNeil told his son to go inside and wait while he called 911 and headed home.

According to McNeil’s testimony, when he pulled up to his house, Epp was next door grabbing something from his truck and stuffing it in his pocket. McNeil quickly grabbed his gun from the glove compartment in plain view of Epp who was coming at him “fast.” McNeil jumped out of the car and fired a warning shot at the ground insisting that Epp back off. Instead of retreating, Epp charged at McNeil while reaching for his pocket, so McNeil fired again, this time fatally striking Epp in the head. (Epp was found to have a folding knife in his pocket, although it was shut.)

Apparently, Epp had threatened others as well. Here’s the Georgia Supreme Court decision.

If the Trayvon Martin case causes more journalists to go looking for these sorts of outrages, that’s a good thing. But I really wish Salon hadn’t framed the story the way it did. The author uses the Trayvon Martin case as a hook, and tries to to use McNeil’s conviction to criticize Stand Your Ground laws. There are a couple of problems with that. First, Georgia’s Stand Your Ground law was passed in 2006. McNeil shot Epp in 2005. So I’m fairly sure the law wouldn’t have applied, although as I understand it, McNeil should still have had Georgia case law on his side. The subhead is also misleading. If he is ultimately convicted of second-degree murder, Zimmerman could be sentenced to life in prison, just as McNeil was.

But even if Georgia’s Stand Your Ground law had already been effect, if McNeil wasn’t granted that defense or a traditional self-defense claim because of his race, class, or some other unjust reason, none of that is a convincing critique of the law. It’s a convincing critique of the criminal justice system.

From the facts in the opinion, I’d say McNeil not only should have been acquitted on traditional self-defense laws, he should never have been charged in the first place. (That was also the opinion of the lead investigator.) But trying to shoehorn this case into a narrative that allows for comparisons to the Martin case doesn’t do John McNeil any favors. I’m not sure it really helps the cause of those calling for Zimmerman’s head, either. For example, the Salon piece suggests that McNeil’s prosecutor may have filed the murder charge after caving to public pressure. That’s what Zimmerman’s defenders say is also happening to him.* Epp’s prior history of threatening people plays into McNeil’s favor—but if we’re comparing the two cases, then it would also seem appropriate to look into Martin’s history, which Martin’s supporters have decried as smearing the victim.

The unfortunate framing aside, this is still a story that deserves more attention, and one that the gun rights crowd should be all over—and really should have been all over from the start.

(*Just to be clear, I don’t endorse or reject this view. I’m inclined to agree with Jonathan Turley that based on the information that has been made public, a second-degree murder is excessive. But we don’t yet know what evidence the special prosecutor has seen that hasn’t yet been made public. We’ll find out soon enough.)

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76 Responses to “John McNeil”

  1. #1 |  nigmalg | 

    I cannot wait to read the probable cause affidavit in the Zimmerman case. I hope the State makes clear this new evidence justifying the 2nd degree murder charge.

  2. #2 |  Leonson | 

    I’ve been withholding judgment for lack of facts on the Zimmerman case as well, but nothing in the narrative that’s come out so far would support 2nd Degree Murder as defined in Florida (requiring a “depravity of mind”).

    If they’d gone with Manslaughter I could see it. Not necessarily support it, but I could see it. 2nd degree murder just looks like political pandering.

  3. #3 |  nigmalg | 

    If I had to make a conclusion with the evidence we have today, I would say even manslaughter to be an difficult argument. They must fill in the blanks in time to show Zimmerman was the aggressor. If our prosecutor managed to do that, then manslaughter should be in the bag.

    Absent that, there’s a chance Zimmerman [rightfully] walks at his pre-trial SYG hearing.

  4. #4 |  Leonson | 

    As a further note: The cynic in me thinks that the full intention of the 2nd degree murder charge is to incite outrage and get the SYG laws removed. Provided a judge throws the charge out (and as Turley notes, the Greyston Garcia case which involved chasing a fleeing man and stabbing him to death was thrown out) they can then say that a murderer walks free because of SYG and try and get public outrage against it in an election year in a very important swing state.

  5. #5 |  JSL | 

    “and one that the gun rights crowd should be all over—and really should have been all over from the start.”

    Yup but they can’t help everyone and the NRA is mostly worthless. They’re too busy begging for money to hob knob with the DC crowd when they’re not selling out their members.

  6. #6 |  SJE | 

    Overcharging makes it more likely that the defendent will go free.

  7. #7 |  John Jenkins | 

    I am normally as pro-defendant as one can be, but on the public facts I have always thought Zimmerman should have been charged with second degree murder. “Depravity” in this case is a term of art, and in Florida, an act is “imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind” if it is an act or series of acts that: (1) a person of ordinary judgment would know is reasonably certain to kill or do serious bodily injury to another, and; (2) is done from ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent, and (3) is of such a nature that the act itself indicates an indifference to human life. Shooting at someone who isn’t actually a threat to you because he happens to be black and dressed in a way you don’t like seems to satisfy all three prongs (those are the facts alleged, and upon which the charge is brought).

    Now a jury can see all of the evidence and we’ll see what they think. In a lot of cases like this you get compromise verdicts, so I could see a manslaughter conviction, and it’s always possible that the jury will weigh the evidence and find Zimmerman’s story of self defense credible and acquit on that basis.

  8. #8 |  Leonson | 

    Reading further, I find it impossible to believe they can succeed on 2nd degree murder based on the jury instructions for 2nd degree murder in Florida.

    Specifically, under definitions-


    An act is “imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind” if is an act or series of acts that:

    1. a person of ordinary judgment would know is reasonably certain to kill or so seriously bodily injury to another, and

    2. is done from ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent, and

    3. is of such a nature that the act itself indicates an indifference to human life.

    I think it will be impossible to prove #2.

  9. #9 |  Michael Chaney | 

    The looney left is going nuts over the SYG laws and those laws have nothing to do with either case. They didn’t even mention SYG at first in the Zimmerman case – someone brought it up about a month after the shooting and the looney left jumped on it.

    My take on charging Zimmerman with 2nd degree murder is that the prosecutor is trying to throw the case as it’s obviously over-charged. Note that I believe Zimmerman *should* face charges as he needlessly incited the incident. Why the prosecutor is trying this tactic is beyond me.

  10. #10 |  Joshua | 

    Here’s my theory:

    Politically and socially, they feel that they have to charge Zimmerman with something, and they have to get a conviction. The prosecutor is afraid that they will not be able to get a conviction even on manslaughter. By charging him with murder, they now have the opportunity to attempt to get him to plead to manslaughter, thus securing the conviction.

  11. #11 |  Brandon | 

    From the Salon article: “Thus far, gun rights advocates such as the NRA and former Cobb County congressional Rep. Newt Gingrich have been silent on McNeil’s conviction, though it’s unclear whether they are aware of the case. ”

    Balloon Juice fallacy?

  12. #12 |  Burgers Allday | 

    What I really, really, really want to hear are transcripts of the other 45 (at least calls) that Zimmerman made to the Sanford PD.

    That would probably cast a very different light on Zimmerman and his modus operandi (as well as the modus operandi of the police dispatcher on the other end). How many others did Zimmerman “birddog” for the police. It wouldn’t take me but two or three exchanges where Zimmerman followed somebody until police arrived to make me believe that he was following Trayvon and did not “give up.” It would also make me think the dispatcher knew what Zimmerman was going to do, absent clear instructions to the contrary, and based upon course of past dealings.

  13. #13 |  Tolly | 

    Yeah the rocket scientists at BoingBoing were going on and on about this GA case – specifically how it shows that when Whitey pulls the trigger, nothing happens. But when a black guy does the same, it’s prison time, no ifs ands or buts.

    They conveniently left out the part where it predated the GA Stand Your Ground law, although, it’s very true that the Castle Doctrine would easily apply here.

    Although the larger, non-racial issue seems to be the sloppy justification for some of these violent idiots who pull a gun or seek out confrontation and the lax state attorneys who rubberstamp it. That Garcia case is a perfect example.

  14. #14 |  Burgers Allday | 

    And, yeah, if Zimmerman did “birddog” any black ppl in the past, I would like to know how the Sanford pd disposed of these situations when they got there.

    I think this is relevant because if the police had a history in acqueiscing in basically stalking ppl (which is to say, following them PLUS trying to get the police to harrass them), then that is probably good for Zimmerman. He might say, I know normally it is a bad idea to follow someone around at night, trying to sic the cops on them for no real reason, but I assumed it was okay in Sanford because they knew I was doing it and never told me to stop — in fact, they encouraged me.

  15. #15 |  Joshua | 

    Sorry for the thread hijacking, but this is sure interesting:

    http://www.click2houston.com/news/Deputies-force-repo-man-to-return-detective-s-truck/-/1735978/10585520/-/62kufc/-/index.html

    I lost count of the felonies committed by the police in this article. There have to be at least ten.

  16. #16 |  Andrew Roth | 

    Radley, your analysis of this case and Salon’s coverage of it is spot on. After reading the original Salon article, I believe that McNeil’s conviction was a miscarriage of justice, most likely racially motivated. This does not, however, excuse Salon’s inflammatory coverage. One look at the photo montage accompanying the article, in which a photo of McNeil smiling and at ease in front of his own house is juxtaposed with the now-infamous booking photo from Zimmerman’s prior arrest, convinced me that Salon was not acting entirely on good faith. Regardless of the underlying facts of the cases in question, such a photo montage is misleading, inflammatory and prejudicial. It’s a dirty journalistic trick of which Salon ought to be ashamed.

    Unfortunately, Salon routinely debases itself in a similar fashion, apparently with the intent of increasing traffic. It’s something of an unusual case, having so much excellent original reporting and commentary while simultaneously provoking flame wars in comment threads by posting obvious troll bait and inflaming partisan tensions with intellectually dishonest arguments, but in terms of overall ethical rot it’s far from the worst outlet in a news industry infested with mercenaries, provocateurs and moral cowards. It’s easy to find a host of examples of news outlets being being every bit as misleading in their use of technically accurate graphics, “expert” quotations, cherry-picked points of context, and the like as Salon was with its photo montage of McNeil and Zimmerman. This sort of thing is a national disgrace in the news industry.

    Thank you for bringing the McNeil case to the attention of your readers.

  17. #17 |  Sertorius | 

    I agree with most everyone else, but I actually read the court opinion, and there is a HUGE detail left out by Salon:

    “Moments later, McNeil told the operator, ‘I’m at the property now ․ and there’s the builder and I may get ready to whip his ass right now.   So get the cops here now.’”

    That is a threat of violence, made before the alleged self-defense shooting.

    I’m not saying McNeil isn’t an outrage still. It sounds that way to me. But that recorded comment to the 911 operator is a game-changer legally, as it is evidence of malice.

  18. #18 |  V-Man | 

    I would be curious to read the court’s decision in the McNeil affair. From the article:

    - Epp had a history of violence and threatening behavior (why did anyone hire him? Isn’t anyone checking references these days?);
    - Epp was armed and moving toward McNeil;
    - There’s a phone call to 911 about an intruder armed with a knife (if someone did call, it’s registered somewhere);
    - There was a warning shot;
    - A witness corroborated McNeil’s story;
    - There must be forensics supporting the story (footprints in the backyard, prints on the knife, a bullet imbedded in the ground, etc.);
    - The police on scene saw it as a clear-cut, self-defense shooting.

    Where the hell did six out of seven judges find something to send McNeil to prison for life? Without possibility of appeal?

  19. #19 |  AnonymousCoward | 

    @ Andrew

    Or maybe, just maybe, those are the first pictures of the two individuals they found.

  20. #20 |  Radley Balko | 

    But that recorded comment to the 911 operator is a game-changer legally, as it is evidence of malice.

    I don’t know. You get a phone call from your son telling you a man has just pulled a knife on you. You drive home and find that the man is still at the house. I think the anger is understandable. And the fact that he first fired a warning shot would seem to indicate his intent was to get Epp to leave. (Even though the majority oddly used the warning shot against him.)

  21. #21 |  Rob McMillin | 

    I think it’s fair to say that Salon does not believe in any sort of justification for armed self-defense, period.

  22. #22 |  Andrew Roth | 

    There’s another, really scary, angle to the Zimmerman case as it pertains to American race relations. The dynamics of the public outcry over Trayvon Martin’s shooting are almost identical to the outcry over the shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland. In each case, a young black man was shot dead by a white man and the black community rose up to demand a prosecution. The underlying facts of the cases are almost polar opposites, but in each case the reaction was basically a lynch mob demanding blood. The shooters in these cases were turned into scapegoats, in Johannes Mehserle’s case with no regard for his actual culpability or intent. I had the distinct gut feeling that Mehserle was unable to get a fair trial because the mob had made it clear that Oakland would go up in flames upon his acquittal.

    It’s not hard at all to see why this inequitable, retributive political environment has arisen. Blacks in much of the United States have been preyed upon by selective enforcement of the law, especially drug laws, de facto denied equal protection on account of their inability to afford adequate defense counsel, and disenfranchised en masse on account of felony convictions that they would not have if the law were enforced impartially and they had adequate counsel. I would argue that the fact that disenfranchisement is applied to individuals in specific cases verges on being immaterial because arrests and prosecutions are so blatantly motivated by class and race rather than evidence of culpability. For many blacks, it’s entirely rational to believe that their only recourse is vengeance against scapegoated whites; in every other respect, the criminal justice system in their communities is broken, and promises from politicians and the bar to help fix it ring hollow.

  23. #23 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    Someone who chases someone down and shoots (or otherwise kills) them, and people here think they should walk? That’s murder, period. In the same situation with a police officer you’d be howling.

    The McNeil case sounds very very different, and I’d class it as self-defence.

  24. #24 |  jmcross | 

    “…viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, no rational trier of fact could have found the absence of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.” GASC dissent.

    Based on the facts presented in the GASC link it’s hard to disagree with this. The majority says they aren’t allowed to over-rule the jury, even in the face of an obvious miscarriage of justice. Okaaaay. This is where the Governor of GA should step in and exercise the power to pardon. He could put an end to this right now.

    As far as Salon and their media ilk’s misrepresentation of the facts regarding SYG goes… what do you expect from a pig but a grunt?

  25. #25 |  Andrew Roth | 

    Re: #19: Good point. I hadn’t even considered laziness, but for Salon it’s plausible. This is the same outfit whose editors illustrated a wire report about an escaped domestic cow with a stock photo of a bison. As far as their editors go, they seem to get what they pay for, and so do we.

  26. #26 |  Sertorius | 

    @Radley: I agree with you and personally I still would have voted to acquit based on the facts as set forth in the appellate opinion, but the tape is still clear evidence McNeil was considering harm to Epp before his life was in danger. Maybe he cooled off. Maybe it was just angry posturing. I still would have felt there was reasonable doubt, at a minimum, and acquitted.

    But so far, I haven’t heard anything nearly as problematic in the Martin shooting (i.e., clear evidence Zimmerman was considering shooting Martin before he was allegedly in fear of his life). Salon’s comparison is disingenuous and shoddy journalism when that detail is left out.

  27. #27 |  nigmalg | 

    Leon,

    I agree that it’s a travesty how this paranoid 300lb white guy can chase a black child down while calling him a coon; shoot him in the back with his automatic 9mm and walk away. We only arrest him after he tries to profit from the dead child by setting up a fake “defense fund” website.

  28. #28 |  John Jenkins | 

    Helpful hint: “evidence of” =/= “dispositive of”

  29. #29 |  nigmalg | 

    Disclaimer: that was a wonderfully obnoxious example of the hyperbole I’ve been reading about this Zimmerman case. I’m getting so tired of point it out I figured I’ll join in.

  30. #30 |  Leonson | 

    nigmalg,

    Wow. Just wow.

    16-17 does not equal a child.

    Zimmerman is not 300lbs.

    There is no proof he called him anything, let alone a racial slur.

    If Zimmerman really wants to profit he’ll sue NBC for editing the 911 call to make him sound racist.

    Btw, emotionally knee-jerk much?

  31. #31 |  Jim Collins | 

    With all of the bullshit thrown out by the MSM, I have to wonder what all of the opinions here are based on?

  32. #32 |  Leonson | 

    #29, lol, I retract the knee-jerk comment. =P

  33. #33 |  Radley Balko | 

    I agree that it’s a travesty how this paranoid 300lb white guy can chase a black child down while calling him a coon; shoot him in the back with his automatic 9mm and walk away.

    Of the seven (by my count) facts you assert in this sentence, four are indisputably wrong.

  34. #34 |  nigmalg | 

    LOL Leonson,

    Sorry I should have put that together with the message. My apologies.

  35. #35 |  nigmalg | 

    Radley,

    I count two potentially correct facts :p. Zimmerman may in fact be “paranoid” and he may have chased Zimmerman.

  36. #36 |  Radley Balko | 

    Great comment, Andrew. The Duke Lacrosse case fits, too.

    Similarly, I once had a black studies professor tell our (mostly white) class that black people knew O.J. Simpson was guilty. But they celebrated the verdict because it showed that a wealthy black man could buy his way out of trouble the same way a wealthy white man could. That was perceived as its own sort of justice. He wasn’t endorsing the view (nor am I). But it’s something I hadn’t really considered.

  37. #37 |  jmcross | 

    If McNeil’s *I’m gonna kick his ass* comment to 911 is what the jurors used to overcome the state’s obligation to display beyond reasonable doubt that the S/D claim was false, then they surely pulled the wool over their own eyes. The jury had to ignore the very reason McNeil returned to his home, Epp had trespassed and threatened his son with a deadly weapon[aggravated assault]. They had to ignore Epp’s history of aggression. They had to ignore that McNeil had immediately called 911 for help. They had to ignore that McNeil backed away from the advancing Epp and warned him to stop. They had to want, against the evidence, to convict. Shame on that jury.

    And piss on the persecutor. Assholes like that make me question my opposition to the death penalty.

  38. #38 |  jmcross | 

    * The jury had to ignore the fact that the rapidly advancing Epp was less than three feet away when shot.

  39. #39 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    Even though the majority oddly used the warning shot against him.

    This isn’t odd at all, it’s actually standard law, and indeed one of the first things you learn in any firearms training course is that you never fire warning shots. It’s only legal to use deadly force against the imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm. If you felt you had time to fire off a warning shot, this is generally considered prima facie proof that you didn’t think the threat was imminent yet.

  40. #40 |  Leonson | 

    That sounds about right. Reminds me of some of the stuff my uncle told me when he was teaching me to shoot. Also about aiming for center of mass and not shooting to wound.

    Of course, my uncle (retired state trooper) also told me if I shoot an unarmed person in my house to make sure I put a knife in his hand afterwards, just in case.

  41. #41 |  Brandon | 

    #39, and that is one of the reasons that people hate lawyers. Incentive to take a life rather than fire a warning shot.

  42. #42 |  Kukulkan | 

    #27

    I agree that it’s a travesty how this paranoid 300lb (See #1) white guy (See #2) can chase a black child (See #3) down while calling him a coon; shoot him in the back (See #4) with his automatic 9mm and walk away (#5). We only arrest him after he tries to profit from the dead child by setting up a fake “defense fund” website (See #6).

    As the following demonstrates, you are a fount of falsity:
    #1: At the time of the shooting, it appears that Zimmerman weighed approximately 170 pounds. The estimates of 250 pounds are based on an old police report and old photographs that the media has been using instead of more recent photographs. (http://www.examiner.com/charleston-conservative-in-charleston-sc/george-zimmerman-weighs-170-trayvon-martin-160)
    #2: Zimmerman’s father is white, his mother is Peruvian, and he self-identifies as Hispanic. Pretty much every African American has a good deal of caucasian ancestry. So, if Zimmerman is white, so is Martin. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travon_martin?vm=r#George_Zimmerman); (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-drop_rule#Racial_mixtures_of_blacks_and_whites_in_modern_America)
    #3: I would not call a 17 year old adolescent who is over 6 feet tall a child. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travon_martin?vm=r#Media_coverage)
    #4: Where in the world did you get the information that Trayvon Martin was shot in the back? Back it up.
    #5: Zimmerman didn’t walk way, he waited for police to arrive and cooperated with the police. Once he was charged with second degree murder, he voluntarily surrendered himself to police custody. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travon_martin?vm=r#George_Zimmerman.27s_account_of_events)
    #6: Given Zimmerman has been arrested, charged with second degree murder and is currently in police custody, I think that he is in need of a defense fund.

  43. #43 |  Kukulkan | 

    #27

    Just to be fair, you correctly identified the weapon as a 9mm pistol. One out of seven. That counts as probable cause . . . doesn’t it?

  44. #44 |  SP | 

    McNeil should not be in prison. He clearly was within the law when he shot Epp. Let’s put it in Cop terms…he was aggressively approached by a man who was reported to have threatened another with a knife, failed to halt when instructed, reached for what was perceived as a weapon, and failed to stop his advance after a warning shot was fired. Here in the Pacific Northwest cops get a pass on this all the time – even with all their hours of training on the use of deadly force. Are their two classes of citizens? Do the police have more rights than civilians? Why are civilians held to a higher standard in regard to the use of deadly force when they have less training than LE professionals? Epp was just one of those people that needed killing. We’ve all run across a**holes like him.

  45. #45 |  Brian | 

    The difference in media treatment points to the fact that it’s not really about race, it’s about hostility to armed self-defense.

    That’s why the media focus has been on Stand Your Ground laws despite the fact that they play no role in either case; McNeil was in his home and Zimmerman was on the ground with no opportunity to retreat. The real story is in fact racial disparity in treatment of self-defense claims, though with the proper result being acquittal/no charge in both cases. But the NYT, NYDailyNews, and Bloomberg aren’t going around talking about racial disparities, and Sharpton et al. aren’t showing up to call for McNeil’s acquittal or pardon.

  46. #46 |  SP | 

    there not their

  47. #47 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    #39, and that is one of the reasons that people hate lawyers. Incentive to take a life rather than fire a warning shot.

    Warning shots aren’t just a bad idea legally, they’re unsafe gun practice. In order to fire a warning shot, you have to point the gun away from the threat, leaving you more exposed. Additionally, that gun is now necessarily pointing at something else, and unless you also take your eyes off the threat (futher exposing yourself), you have no idea what that something else is.

    That’s how innocent bystanders get hurt. There’s no valid reason to 1) make yourself more exposed and 2) increasing the risk to the general public in the name of a pointless gesture (if pointing a gun at someone isn’t enough to deter them, firing off in some random direction is unlikely to do so).

  48. #48 |  perlhaqr | 

    Are there two classes of citizens? Do the police have more rights than civilians? Why are civilians held to a higher standard in regard to the use of deadly force when they have less training than LE professionals?

    You’re new here, aren’t you? ;)

  49. #49 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @27 – Let’s leave that case aside then, since you’re determined to make it a racial issue.

    You think the Texas man who chased down someone he saw committing a non-violent crime and killed him with a knife is blameless? The moment it moves away from self-defence, it’s murder afaik – and in the eyes of the law here.

    McNeil’s case is clearly self-defence, and equating that with a chase-down or vigilante case of any sort is outright ridiculous.

  50. #50 |  Burgers Allday | 

    Johannes Mehserle’s case with no regard for his actual culpability or intent.

    Johannes Mehserle was running around after the shooting saying that he shot Grant because he thought Grant was reaching for a gun. The, a couple days later, the videos started trickling out. Then several months later, Mehserle’s lawyers say that maybe Mehserle shot because he thought he was shooting a TASER (that’s right — at first it was just “maybe” he thought it was a taser — they had no testimony to that effect). Then, a year after that, Mehserle stands up on the stand and says he thought the gun was a taser and that is why he shot. The statements (incompatible with the video) that he thought Grant had a gun? Inadmissible somehow (mostly because the “prosecutor” wasn’t trying to get those statements in vigorously).

    IOW, don’t give us any junk about Mehserle’s intent. D00d told a lie about why he shot grant and then came up with a lawyer driven excuse months and months later, and an excuse that Mehserle would not even agree to testify to until the last possible minute (probably fearing that the “prosecutor” would use the testimony to open the door to the false statements made in the wake of the actual shooting).

    If you think you know for a fact that Mehserle meant to reach for the taser, you basically got manipulated. Sorry there, bub.

  51. #51 |  supercat | 

    //Warning shots aren’t just a bad idea legally, they’re unsafe gun practice. In order to fire a warning shot, you have to point the gun away from the threat, leaving you more exposed. Additionally, that gun is now necessarily pointing at something else, and unless you also take your eyes off the threat (futher exposing yourself), you have no idea what that something else is.//

    I recognize that in many circumstances, warning shots are dangerous, and one should not get a free pass for them on such basis. Nonetheless, that does not mean that there are not circumstances where firing a warning shot would be the safest course of action for all concerned. If one is on familiar terrain, on one’s own property, and knows that the target of the shot is a safe place to shoot, has an objectively reasonable belief that an attacker will not stop his attack unless a shot is fired, and believes that a warning shot might dissuade the attacker without injury, I don’t see that anyone would really benefit from having the property owner wait until the attacker had to be killed, especially in cases where the property owner would really rather not kill the attacker (e.g. the attacker is a relative who is in a very unusual state of mind because of some circumstance which would not likely be repeated).

  52. #52 |  Red | 

    Warning shots are now illegal but in the past they were the hallmark of civilized people everywhere. You let the aggressor know you’re willing to used lethal force without actually harming anyone. It gives everyone an opportunity to back down. I’d like to see them make a comeback.

  53. #53 |  EBL | 

    I still cannot figure out how you get to 2nd degree murder on the Martin-Zimmerman case (manslaughter, there may be probable cause depending on the evidence they have). But we will see.

    But this McNeil case just seems really offensive to me.

  54. #54 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    I still cannot figure out how you get to 2nd degree murder on the Martin-Zimmerman case

    If you look at Florida’s homicide statute, they seem to have a much lower bar for murder than most states. Specifically, you don’t have to prove intent, just that the defendants actions were “evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life”.

    If they state can prove that Zimmerman initiated the physical confrontatioon in an attempt to illegally detain Martin, or that Zimmerman’s actions were the result of a hatred towards blacks, they probably have the additional elements to bump it from 2nd degree murder, as Florida defines it.

  55. #55 |  Anna | 

    I agree that it’s a travesty how this paranoid 300lb white guy can chase a black child down while calling him a coon; shoot him in the back with his automatic 9mm and walk away. We only arrest him after he tries to profit from the dead child by setting up a fake “defense fund” website.

    Let’s take this bit by bit:

    paranoid – debatable.
    300lb : wrong.
    white man : wrong. he is hispanic.
    chase: unclear
    black child : legal minor, yes, but not a little boy. He played football, among other things.
    calling him a coon: also debatable.
    shoot him in the back: untrue as far as I know
    with an automatic 9mm: Don’t remember what kind of gun he used, but I don’t think the caliber of his gun has anything to do with whether he was justified in shooting Martin or not.

    fake defense fund: “Fake” in what way? Are you saying that he’s not actually paying his lawyers and they are working pro bono?

  56. #56 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    Radley: “Similarly, I once had a black studies professor tell our (mostly white) class that black people knew O.J. Simpson was guilty. But they celebrated the verdict because it showed that a wealthy black man could buy his way out of trouble the same way a wealthy white man could.”

    I find it interesting that this would be something to celebrate. So two wrongs DO make a right, according to this theory. Let’s have a round of applause for our amoral system. Pay no attention to the mutilated bodies on the ground, all of this can be swept away if you have the funds.

    This tends to support my theory that black people who feel this way, no matter how radical they think they are, have completely bought in to the might-makes-right, me against the world mentality that our system of corporate capitalism (corporatism) promotes. In my community, I frequently see young black males walking around with “Benjamins” on their t-shirts (not to mention the now cliche Scarface t-shirt) and gold teeth in their mouths. No matter how much they scowl and say “fuck the POleece,” I still think of these guys as sell outs. If these fools could set up plantations and bring back slavery they would, so long as they are able to profit. But for now, making money off of the government’s absurd drug war will do.

  57. #57 |  Juice | 

    It shows that the defendant’s life is sometimes hanging on the whims of a particular jury. Recently an acquaintance was on a jury for a case where a woman stabbed a guy to death in a bar and was acquitted on self-defense grounds. The guy had cocaine in his system, but so did she. The evidence in the Georgia case seems less controvertible than the stabbing case, but the woman was free to go while this other guy got life in prison.

  58. #58 |  Juice | 

    #15 | Joshua

    What a ridiculous situation made even more ridiculous by this statement:

    “Law enforcement officers have to follow the same rules everybody else does,” he said.

    LOL

  59. #59 |  Pasquin | 

    I’ve given up on Salon. It’s hack-o-rama over there, with the notable exception of Glenn Greenwald. Occasionally Michael Lind.

  60. #60 |  EBL | 

    This case really bothers me.

    I did a post on it.

    Given his appeals have run out, his only hope seems to be a pardon by the Governor. That is only going to happen if people speak out about it.

  61. #61 |  EBL | 

    In Search of the Tempestuous Sea sums up the situation well:

    The gun-unfriendly nature of the NAACP and whether or not John McNeil is black and Brian Epp was white are irrelevant. What has happened here is that a man has been wrongly convicted in a self-defense shooting and pressure needs to be applied to correct this injustice. Perhaps the Governor of Georgia can be persuaded to grant McNeil a pardon. In the interests of black people and white people and people who care about the natural right to self defense, this case needs more publicity.

    I am surprised Glenn Reynolds is not on this one (he might not know about it). I understand Salon is not exactly promoting gun rights, but the issue here is on these facts John McNeil should never have been convicted. Sorry, I am all for juries but they do get things wrong sometimes.

  62. #62 |  Kukulkan | 

    #27

    You claimed that Zimmerman shot Martin in the back. I asked you to back up your claim, which you did not do. Nor can you. The affidavit in support of Zimmerman’s arrest states that Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest:
    http://www.thefloridanewsjournal.com/2012/04/12/transcript-george-zimmermans-arrest-and-charge-affidavit-second-degree-murder

  63. #63 |  nigmalg | 

    Anna, Kukulkan, and any others responding to my #27 post.

    I was deliberately trying to be obnoxious, as I posted in #29. I regret not including the disclaimer along with my post. I will not make this mistake again. I was not seeking to troll, I only wished to highlight my point that discussion on this subject has gone into the twilight zone in the media.

    With the PC affidavit that the prosecutor offered and absent any new evidence, there is a likelihood Zimmerman will walk before trial.

  64. #64 |  Sam | 

    I want to understand this: when people say that Zimmerman shouldn’t be charged, is that stance grounded on what the law says or a moral conviction? Because it seems like what Florida has done is legalize murder with the Stand Your Ground law, so long as nobody else is around. After all, how can anybody refute the survivor’s testimony?

    Because there don’t seem to be any eyewitnesses to the entire event, and because Martin ended up dead (and thus, unable to testify), Zimmerman’s telling of the story will hold sway, and he’ll be able to get away killing another human being. Even though he was the armed one. Even though he was following Martin around. Even though he was the obvious threat.

  65. #65 |  buzz | 

    “Someone who chases someone down and shoots (or otherwise kills) them, and people here think they should walk? That’s murder, period. In the same situation with a police officer you’d be howling.”

    I’ve yet to see a single person here say anything like that. Most people here are basing their opinion on the actual facts of the case that have been released. From the way you framed your sentence above, you seem to be basing your opinion of the supposition of what may or may not have happened, but is certainly not supported by the facts so far released. Everyone is waiting to see what, if anything that has yet to be released that can justify the charge.

  66. #66 |  buzz | 

    “Because it seems like what Florida has done is legalize murder with the Stand Your Ground law, so long as nobody else is around. After all, how can anybody refute the survivor’s testimony?”

    Yes, It seems like that only if you totally ignore what the law says, and totally ignore the facts of the case and only reply on opinion. Much like your statement “Even though he was the obvious threat.”

  67. #67 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @65 – What? Multiple people have said it repeatedly.

    And, no, people are not waiting. People are saying “at worst manslaughter”, or calling for him to walk. Which is quite unsupportable on the evidence we do have – and that doesn’t appear to be contested – that he deliberately sough a confrontation.

  68. #68 |  EH | 

    I agree that the race angle of this case is unfortunate, since what really seems to me that Zimmerman’s motivation was more attributable to being a wannabe-cop. I have nothing to support this, but I can see the police wanting to play up the race bait on this. Zimmerman was a one-man Neighborhood Watch. The program in that neighborhood was his idea, and he was its only member.

  69. #69 |  Leonson | 

    69- I don’t believe he deliberately sought a confrontation.

    I think he was trying to keep eyes on someone he didn’t recognize in his neighborhood. If not for the racial overtones in this, it’s what any of us would want a good neighbor to do, especially in a neighborhood that had a number of burglaries recently.

  70. #70 |  Deoxy | 

    Similarly, I once had a black studies professor tell our (mostly white) class that black people knew O.J. Simpson was guilty. But they celebrated the verdict because it showed that a wealthy black man could buy his way out of trouble the same way a wealthy white man could.

    My mother said a black friend of hers told her something very very similar – and I can actually understand that from an “equality” stand point… that is, a rich BLACK person can buy their way out of it just like a rich WHITE person (Corzine, anyone?!?). Sure, it’s not justice (I don’t want rich people of ANY color to be able to buy their way out), but (from some perspectives, at least) justice isn’t really on offer, anyway, so some level of equality is at least a step up.

    I want to understand this: when people say that Zimmerman shouldn’t be charged, is that stance grounded on what the law says or a moral conviction?

    Both – *unless their is some other serious piece of evidence* that has not been released, an ethical prosecutor would not charge him, certainly not with murder 2. Manslaughter, MAYBE.

    Because it seems like what Florida has done is legalize murder with the Stand Your Ground law, so long as nobody else is around. After all, how can anybody refute the survivor’s testimony?

    Sigh. For the umteen-millionth time, SYG has nothing to do with what Zimmerman is claiming. SYG has to do with “duty to retreat”, and if you’re on your back with someone on top beating you, you CAN’T retreat, so self-defense would have been just as valid before SYG.

    Now, you certainly COULD claim whatever you want if no one is around, and SYG does indeed make that at least somewhat easier than before, that’s true… but it also makes it a lot less difficult to avoid prosecution for actually protecting yourself. As well-documented in many places (such as this very site), prosecutions of actual self-defense cases (even obvious ones) has been a serious problem in many places. Considering the complete lack of blood running in the streets in the dozens of states with SYG laws, I’d say that’s a good trade-off – fewer innocent people getting the bad end of the deal (as either victim or innocently prosecuted). There is no perfect system.

    Even though he was the armed one. Even though he was following Martin around. Even though he was the obvious threat.

    Armed, yes. Following… evidence strongly suggests he had quit doing that and was returning to his car. “Obvious threat” is simply begging the question, passing judgment in just as biased a fashion as you are accusing Zimmerman’s defenders of doing.

  71. #71 |  Deoxy | 

    Which is quite unsupportable on the evidence we do have – and that doesn’t appear to be contested – that he deliberately sough a confrontation.

    On, that evidence is HIGHLY contested – Zimmerman says he had quit following and was returning to his vehicle, and the place that it happened supports that. The 9/11 tape is audio only, so it doesn’t really say one way or the other – Zimmerman simply acknowledged the operator telling him not to follow without specifying whether he was following the advice/order (depending on how you want to interpret it).

    If Zimmerman “chased him down”, then it becomes quit a bit dicier (even if he did, if he simply followed and then Martin attacked him, it’s still legally and ethically possible that it was self-defense), but it seems most likely (by the publicly available facts at this time) that Zimmerman abandoned the pursuit, and Martin attacked him a few minutes later.

  72. #72 |  Self-defense, black on white | 

    [...] Balko on the John McNeil case from Georgia, which by reversing some of the assumed racial valences might give many partisans reason to think [...]

  73. #73 |  What If George Zimmerman Were Black: Liberals Think They’ve Found the Answer in Georgia | Being 1732 | 

    [...] According to libertarian blogger Radley Balko, who is sympathetic to McNeil, Georgia’s “Stand Your Ground Law” was passed in [...]

  74. #74 |  jimr | 

    All those that support the Second Amendment and a person’s right to defend themselves and their property need to stand up for Mr. McNeil!

    This is an outrage that needs to be addressed asap. We can not let an upstanding man like this rot in prison.

    Poor lady liberty has shed another tear.

  75. #75 |  James | 

    SYG in GA was enacted in 2006, this occurred in 2005. So he may have had a duty to retreat to his home.

  76. #76 |  Robert | 

    Come on? Use the “it doesn’t happen that way in real life” test. Who in their right mind is going to charge a man with a gun while (who is shooting at you) with just a folded pocket knife inside their pocket. Only a total fool would by McNeil’s side of the story.

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