Why Was Sally McNeil Sentenced For Murdering Her Allegedly Abusive Husband Despite Self-Defense Claims?

On February 14, 1995, while most couples were celebrating Valentine's Day, husband and wife Ray and Sally McNeil were engaged in a heated argument until it escalated and ended with one of them dead. Per Inside Edition, 911 received a call from a woman who said, "I just shot my husband because he just beat me up." Emergency responders were able to rush Ray to the hospital, but he died soon after. He sustained shotgun wounds on his abdomen and face. The murder of Ray is the subject of the Netflix documentary titled "Killer Sally."

Sally and Ray McNeil both served in the Marine Corps, and the two married just a couple of months after meeting in 1987. Sally had two children — Shantina and John — with her first husband. After leaving the Marine Corps, Ray and Sally focused on bodybuilding. While Ray competed professionally, Sally made money by starring in videos wherein she wrestled men, as noted by Digital Spy. Throughout their marriage, Sally and Ray reportedly had a volatile relationship and it ultimately ended in Ray's death and Sally's murder conviction.

The night of Ray McNeil's death

Sally McNeil recounted the night of Ray's murder in the documentary "Killer Sally." According to her, Ray spent most of the day away from her, and she decided to go look for him at a local bar. As she was getting ready to leave, Ray arrived home and an argument ensued. Shantina, 11, and John, 9, were both present in the California apartment when the incident occurred. As noted by Screenrant, Sally said that Ray choked her, and Shantina verified the account, as she heard the argument while it was happening. At some point, Sally was able to get away from Ray, and she went into their room to retrieve her shotgun.

She shot Ray in the stomach but said that Ray continued to move toward her, and that was when she shot him again in the face. Sally immediately called 911 to report the incident. Authorities who responded found Ray bleeding on the floor with a shattered jaw and a hole in his torso, but he was still clinging to life. There was no question who shot Ray; Sally admitted to firing the shotgun, but she insisted that it was a case of self-defense. According to the New York Daily News, as Sally told the authorities what happened, Ray shook his head and said "No!" as if telling the authorities that Sally's account wasn't truthful. Just two hours later, he was declared dead at the hospital.

Did Sally McNeil have Battered Wife Syndrome?

Sally McNeil was charged with the murder of Ray McNeil, and her attorneys used the Battered Wife Syndrome (BWS) defense in court. As reported by Psychiatric Times, BWS is a type of PTSD that develops when women are repeatedly subjected to physical, psychological, or sexual abuse. Sally said that she had been abused by many people in her life including her father, her first husband, and Ray (via Screenrant). In the Netflix documentary, her children witnessed Ray abuse their mother, and at times, they became their stepfather's targets as well.

Sally and Ray's relationship was toxic from the beginning. She claimed that Ray abused her as early as three days after their marriage. She also said that attempted to get away from Ray a few times. However, Sally also had violent tendencies. She was demoted in the military for anger issues and violent behavior, and she had a few run-ins with the law for assault.

The arguments in court

Sally McNeil's defense team argued that she shot Ray in self-defense, as she was truly afraid of being killed by her husband at that moment. In addition, Ray had five types of steroids in his system on that fateful night and was in a rage when he allegedly attacked Sally. The prosecution stated that it couldn't have been self-defense, as based on the evidence, Sally got another shotgun shell from the bedroom after she shot him once, and she reloaded the gun to shoot him again, as noted by Generation Iron. Furthermore, they focused on highlighting Sally's violent tendencies and prior arrests, as well as her strong physique. "The defendant is anything but a battered wife," the prosecutor stated (via New York Daily News).

In court, several of Ray's friends testified about witnessing Sally being aggressive toward Ray. A few only testified on Sally's side, however. One of her closest friends said she saw Sally with injuries, and her daughter Shantina also took the stand to recount that awful night. John didn't take the stand, as he was too young at that time, per MovieWeb.

Sally McNeil was convicted

In an interview with A&E, psychiatrists and scholars said that Sally McNeil most likely suffered from BWS. "Sally's case is as close to a classic battered woman syndrome self-defense as you can get," psychologist Dr. Don Dutton said. However, proving in court that a wife killed her husband in self-defense can be difficult. In addition, the prosecution highlighted Sally's physique and physical strength, and she didn't fit the stereotypical description of a battered wife. However, experts say that there is no perfect victim in terms of physical appearance and behavior, as all cases are different. A law professor, Kit Kinports, said that cases like Sally's are difficult to win. "Even today, it is hard for women to get acquittals in these types of cases," he said.

In the end, the prosecution swayed the jury, and Sally was convicted of second-degree murder. She appealed her conviction and it was overturned in 2003, but the Supreme Court reversed the ruling and her conviction was reinstated in 2005. As reported by Inside Edition, Sally spent 25 years in prison and was released in 2020.