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Is Sally McNeil Still in Prison?

Sally McNeil is a former professional female bodybuilder who was convicted in 1995 of second-degree murder for shooting and killing her husband, top bodybuilder Ray McNeil. Her controversial trial and conviction brought attention to issues of domestic violence and gender stereotypes. So where is Sally McNeil today and is she still in prison?

Background on the Sally McNeil Case

Sally and Ray McNeil were both successful professional bodybuilders in the early 1990s. However, their marriage was abusive and violent on both sides. On February 14, 1995, an argument at their Oceanside, California home escalated when Ray allegedly choked Sally and hit her in the face. Sally said she tried to load her gun to scare Ray but it accidentally fired, shooting him in the gut. Prosecutors argued Sally had loaded the gun and shot Ray intentionally.

On March 16, 1995, Sally McNeil was convicted of second-degree murder for the death of her husband. She was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison. At the time, it was one of the longest sentences ever given to a woman for killing a spouse convicted of domestic violence.

Sally McNeil’s Prison Time

Sally McNeil entered the California state prison system in 1995 to serve her sentence. She spent time at multiple facilities, including:

  • Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla
  • California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona
  • Valley State Prison in Chowchilla

In June 2020, McNeil was granted parole after a hearing in front of the California Board of Parole. This was her sixth attempt at parole since becoming eligible in 2005. She was approved for release in July 2021 after 26 years in prison.

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Is Sally McNeil Out of Prison Now?

Yes, Sally McNeil was released from Valley State Prison in Chowchilla, California on parole on August 8, 2021. She was 55 years old at the time of her release.

McNeil served a total of 25 years and 5 months in prison before being paroled. With time served and good behavior credits, she completed her minimum 19 year sentence.

Upon release, she planned to live near San Diego and focus on adjusting back to everyday life outside of prison. Her parole will likely last around 3 years, with restrictions on things like internet access and travel.

Key Dates for Sally McNeil’s Incarceration and Release:

February 14, 1995Sally McNeil shoots and kills husband Ray McNeil during domestic dispute
March 16, 1995Convicted of 2nd degree murder, sentenced to 19 years to life in prison
1995-2021Serves time at multiple CA women’s prisons
June 2020Granted parole at 6th attempt
July 2021Approved for release by parole board after 26 years served
August 8, 2021Released from Valley State Prison on parole at age 55

What Was Sally McNeil Convicted Of?

Sally McNeil was tried and convicted of second-degree murder for the February 1995 shooting death of her husband, Ray McNeil.

Second-degree murder is defined as an intentional killing that lacks premeditation and deliberation, or results from a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.

Prosecutors argued that although Sally and Ray had a violent, abusive relationship, Sally intentionally loaded the gun and made a decision to shoot Ray during their dispute on February 14, 1995.

The jury agreed the shooting was intentional but occurred in the heat of passion during the fight, rather than being premeditated. So she was convicted of murder in the second degree rather than first degree.

Did Sally McNeil Claim Self-Defense?

Yes, Sally McNeil admitted to shooting Ray but claimed she acted in self-defense during a life-threatening situation.

On the day of the shooting, the McNeils had been arguing and Ray allegedly choked Sally and punched her in the face multiple times.

Sally said she tried to load her gun only to frighten Ray and stop the attack, but she accidentally shot him in an act of self-preservation.

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However, prosecutors said evidence showed Sally purposefully loaded the gun then intentionally shot Ray, undercutting her self-defense claim. The jury did not believe the shooting was fully accidental and in self-defense.

What Role Did Domestic Violence Play in the Case?

Domestic violence was a central issue in Sally McNeil’s trial and subsequent appeals.

Both Sally and Ray had abused each other for years leading up to the fatal shooting. Friends testified this included serious physical violence, death threats, and steroid use by Ray.

Sally’s lawyers aimed to use evidence of domestic violence and battered woman’s syndrome to strengthen her self-defense claim. However, the judge denied the syndrome testimony as unreliable.

Critics later questioned if gender stereotypes had influenced the verdicts, since abused women who kill rarely prevail with self-defense claims.

How Long is a Life Sentence in California?

In California, a life sentence with parole does not necessarily mean life in prison without the possibility of release.

Sally McNeil received a sentence of 15 years to life for second-degree murder. The “life” part of this sentence mandated she serve at least 15 years before becoming eligible for parole.

After an inmate serves their minimum number of years, the parole board reviews their case periodically to determine suitability for release. If granted parole, they are discharged from prison but remain on supervised parole for 3-5 years.

Very few lifers are actually paroled in California. But after 26 years served, Sally McNeil was one of the rare cases to be granted parole and released.

Is Sally McNeil on Social Media Now?

No, as a paroled felon it is unlikely Sally McNeil has access to social media. Standard parole conditions prohibit internet use without approval and supervision.

McNeil has intentionally avoided publicity since her release from prison. She is focused on adjusting to normal life and keeping a low profile.

In the past, McNeil expressed interest in advocating for other incarcerated women but has not yet emerged as any kind of public figure. She maintains a private life restricted by the terms of her parole.

Could Sally McNeil’s Case Happen Today?

Some legal experts believe the outcome of Sally McNeil’s trial could be different if it happened today, due to evolving views on domestic violence and gender biases.

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In 1995, testimony on battered woman syndrome was controversial and rarely permitted. But today it is widely accepted that domestic abuse can alter perceptions of danger and reasonableness of self-defense.

More recent cases indicate juries have become more sympathetic to battered women on trial for killing abusers. Gender stereotypes regarding size and strength that hurt McNeil may hold less sway now.

However, prosecutors would still focus on evidence of intentionality versus accident to counter self-defense claims. Each trial still depends greatly on specific facts and testimony.

Did Sally McNeil Show Remorse at Her Parole Hearing?

Yes, testimony indicates Sally McNeil expressed clear remorse for the killing of Ray McNeil at her 2020 parole hearing. This was likely a factor in the board’s decision to grant her release.

McNeil took full responsibility, acknowledging the shooting was not accidental like her trial claim. She described living with deep regret and working to rehabilitate herself after years of blaming others.

The parole board commended McNeil for her insight into past abusive dynamics, personal growth, good conduct in prison, and realistic parole plans. Demonstrating remorse improved her chances for a favorable ruling.

What Are Typical Parole Requirements After a Murder Conviction?

Parole conditions are strict for convicted murderers released from California prisons. Sally McNeil’s parole likely included typical requirements such as:

  • Reporting regularly to a parole officer
  • Obtaining permission for living arrangements and employment
  • Not using drugs, alcohol, or firearms
  • Avoiding contact with the victim’s family
  • Restrictions on travel and internet access
  • Completion of counseling or rehabilitation programs
  • Electronic monitoring and curfews
  • Arrest for any parole violations may lead to re-incarceration

McNeil will have to comply closely with these parole terms or risk being sent back to prison to complete her life sentence.


The infamous trial of Sally McNeil divided public opinion in the 1990s and remained controversial decades into her prison sentence. Many questioned if she faced bias as a battered woman on trial for murdering her abusive husband. After 25 years behind bars, McNeil was granted parole in 2021 and released. She served the minimum required for her conviction but is still bound by strict supervision as a paroled felon. McNeil’s case highlights difficult issues surrounding domestic violence victims who kill, gender bias in the courts, and the complexities of life sentences. While she is now free, the deadly culmination of her toxic marriage with Ray McNeil will follow Sally forever.

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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