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McNeal found guilty on all counts
Cecil McNeil (left), Judge Robert Russell and attorney Lorenzo Merritt listen to testimony. - photo by Photo by Ross Blair

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A short video of the trial.

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After four days of listening to testimony from 14 witnesses at Bryan County Superior Court, a jury found George Cecil McNeal, 28, guilty of the 2005 murder of 47-year-old Ellabell man Michael Taranovich.

The jury deliberated for more than four hours on Friday before reaching a verdict and afterward, Altlantic Judicial Circuit Judge Robert Russell sentenced McNeal, of Ellabell, to life in prison. McNeal also was sentenced to 40 years of aggravated assault for the shooting of then 25-year-old Joseph Taranovich, robbery and gun possession. Those sentences will run concurrently with his life sentence.

In their closing statements, each side made a final plea to the jury before deliberation began.

"The only thing tying McNeal to these charges is the testimony of Joe Taranovich – a proven liar and a dope head," said Lorenzo Merritt, McNeal's attorney.

Assistant District Attorney Ron Poirier argued that Joe Taranovich was a very reliable witness and that his admissions on the stand about his drug use was an example of his honesty.

Assistant DA Chris Schneider said physical evidence pointed to McNeal.  

"There’s a bit more that ties McNeal to these crimes besides Joe’s testimony and we’ve seen many examples of that during three long days of trial," Schneider said.

He referenced statements from GBI Agent Tracy Sands who collected blood samples at the scene, GBI forensic biologist Barbara Retzer who testified for the prosecution while giving a DNA analysis of the samples and GBI medical examiner Dr. Jamie Downs who testified that Michael Taranovich was shot while kneeling and while on his back.

"Are all these people involved in a conspiracy led by Joe Taranovich?," Schneider asked the jury.

McNeal proclaimed his innocence during his testimony Thursday.

"I realize this is a tough situation because a man lost his life, but my heart is kind of hard to it because it’s not like I tried to inflict harm on anyone," McNeal said. "The blood ain’t on my hands."

Joe Taranovich said the jury did the right thing.

"Justice has been served," he said.

Click on the video icon on the left to see footage of the trial.

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