A sensitive new docuseries considers the case of Sally McNeil, a woman who killed her violent husband in self-defense

Killer Sally, a new Netflix true crime docuseries, begins as many in the genre do: with a death and the tape of a 911 call. We hear Sally McNeil’s voice, shaky but steadfast, answering the operator in Oceanside, California with clipped statements: she just shot her husband because he was beating her. The wailing voice in the background is her daughter. Her husband of eight years, bodybuilding champion Ray McNeil, is on the ground but still breathing.

Killer Sally never disputes these facts, nor the fact that Sally shot Ray twice – once in the abdomen, once in the face – with a gun she had purchased, killing him on Valentine’s Day, 1995. The three-part series, directed by Nanette Burstein (Hillary) is less an investigation into what happened that evening than a detailed parsing of how the legal system, and the media at large, handled McNeil’s case – as a member of the misunderstood subculture of bodybuilding, as a victim of prolonged domestic abuse, as a muscular, undeniably buff woman whom prosecutors argued was “too strong to be battered”.

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