Killer Sally director Nanette Burstein believes that former bodybuilder and wrestler Sally McNeil was acting in self-defense when she shot and killed her husband, fellow bodybuilder Ray McNeil, on Valentine’s Day in 1995.
“I believe that Sally was acting in self-defense. I think it’s complicated because of the forensics, because of the fact that she shot him twice,” Burstein told MovieMaker.
But that’s not how the jury saw it during McNeil’s trial in 1996. She was convicted of second-degree murder for Ray’s death and was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison, ultimately serving 25 years before she was released from the Central California Women’s Facility in the summer of 2020, according to Netflix’s Killer Sally. She has since remarried.
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“It’s hard to prove intimate threat. I mean, it can get pretty in the weeds legally,” Burstein said. “This continues to happen today… There are all kinds of sticky situations that don’t prove the perfect self-defense, and I think we really need to re-examine that.”
Burstein, who is also the director behind documentaries like On the Ropes (1999) and Hillary (2020), hopes that Killer Sally will help other women in domestic violence situations.
“I would like people to revisit how we deal, in society and judicially, with domestic violence — how we think about gender roles. I think the fact that Sally was a bodybuilder did not help her case. She didn’t seem like the helpless victim, even though her husband was 100 pounds heavier than her, pure muscle,” Burstein said. “In the ’90s, there were several cases of women like Tonya Harding and Lorena Bobbitt that were ‘angry women,’ and Sally fit into that. And it’s still a problem today, how we see women that don’t fit into this mold that we expect them to be.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 at 800-799-7233.
Killer Sally is now streaming on Netflix.
Main Image: Sally McNeil in Killer Sally courtesy of Netflix