Meet John G. McNeil
Visionary. Leader. Prison Reform Advocate. Champion for Youth.
John Garrett McNeil was born in Wilson, N.C. to Robert and Edna McNeil. His father served in the Army and later worked at Stevenson Millwork. His mother was a stay-at-home mom and part-time worker on a local tobacco farm.
The second youngest of seven children, John grew up on Narroway Street and was educated in Wilson County Public Schools, where he was an All-American basketball athlete in high school. He played for the legendary coach Harvey Reid at Ralph L. Fike High School and was part of the 1984 Championship winning team.
In 1992, John received his Bachelor’s degree in Management from Elizabeth City State University. He married his high school sweet heart Anita and they were blessed with two sons: John McNeill II and La’Ron McNeil.
After completing college, John moved his family to Atlanta to pursue his dream of playing for the NBA. When an opportunity with the Atlanta Hawks didn’t pan out, he became a successful businessman and worked as a salesman for a construction firm.
However, John’s life took an unexpected turn in December 2005. The McNeils had just moved into their dream home in an affluent neighborhood in Kennesaw, GA, when a disagreement with the builder led to a hostile confrontation in which the builder came onto John’s property and threatened John and his son with a knife. John warned the man to back away and leave his home, but he lunged toward John, prompting him to fire a fatal shot. Authorities found that McNeil acted in self-defense, but nearly a year after the incident, the district attorney charged John with murder. During the trial, police testified on John’s behalf. Still, he was sentenced to life in prison in 2006.
Seeking justice, John’s wife Anita started a grassroots awareness campaign, enlisting support from the NAACP and various community leaders. While in prison, John spent hours studying the law. He became a certified paralegal and would research his case and others; his advice even helped free a couple inmates.
Miraculously, after years of public outcry, court appeals and a new trial, John was freed in 2013, but not in time to reunite with Anita, who lost her battle with cancer 10 days prior to his release.
Returning to Wilson that year, John set out to give back to the community that stood by him throughout his ordeal. He became a mentor working with adjudicated youth at the Daniels Learning Center and at Save-A-Youth in the afternoons. A man of deep faith, he spends Sundays in church and found love again with his current wife, Teresa. He also wrote a book -- Breathe Freedom: The John McNeil Story – chronicling the details of his legal battle to inspire others to never give up the fight for justice.
His personal experience with the judicial system sparked John’s interest in running for state office. He has a heart for helping others, especially those affected by incarceration, poverty and injustice. He envisions a thriving future for Wilson County and believes the key issues to bring about change to District 24 are education (making sure schools have the proper resources to effectively serve all students), prison reform (re-examining self-defense laws; creating programs for families of incarcerated individuals) and agriculture (supporting the economic plight of farmers).
John is running for the N.C. House because he simply cares about the well-being of the people. He is the strong, battle-tested leader Wilson County needs to represent District 24 effectively in the General Assembly and to move the community forward.