Friday, June 12, 2015
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A man charged with hanging a noose around a college statue dedicated to integration and diversity is going to plead guilty.
Federal court filings show former University of Mississippi student Graeme Phillip Harris will plead guilty to a charge of using a threat of force to intimidate African-American students and employees at the university. U.S. District Judge Michael Mills is scheduled to take the plea in Oxford.
The noose and a former Georgia state flag that prominently featured the Confederate battle emblem were placed on the James Meredith statue on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford in February 2014. In 1962, anti-integration protests erupted into violence and Meredith had to be escorted by armed federal agents as he enrolled under court order as the first black student at the university.
Harris, of Alpharetta, Georgia, faces up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Pleading guilty to the charge means he likely won't be prosecuted for a second charge listed in his March indictment — conspiracy to violate civil rights — which carries up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Shortly after the indictment, Harris' lawyer denied the former student had draped the noose over the Meredith statute. The lawyer couldn't immediately be reached for comment Friday.
Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had announced the indictment, saying the "shameful and ignorant act is an insult to all Americans and a violation of our most strongly held values."
Harris, who is white, was an Ole Miss student when the noose was placed on the statue but is no longer enrolled. Ole Miss officials have said they turned the case over to federal prosecutors and deferred to their judgment. Danny Blanton, a university spokesman, declined immediate comment.
The local district attorney said in 2014 that state charges wouldn't be filed because no state laws were broken. Mississippi's hate crime law requires an underlying crime for additional charges. Because the statue wasn't marred or broken, prosecutors said vandalism charges didn't apply.
Meredith, 81, said again Friday that it appeared the only justice black people could expect was from the federal government and not from state officials.
The national office of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity suspended its Ole Miss chapter after three of the chapter's members were accused of leaving the noose and flag on the Meredith statue. Names of the three students from Georgia were not released at the time.
The Meredith statue was erected in 2006 near the university's main administrative building, the Lyceum. In a 2012 autobiography, Meredith said the university should destroy the statue because he said it trivialized his effort to destroy a system of white supremacy that had long dominated Mississippi, his native state.
"I have become a piece of art, a tourist attraction, a soothing image on the civil rights tour of the South, a public relations tool for the powers that be at Ole Miss, and a feel-good icon of brotherly love and racial reconciliation, frozen in gentle docility," Meredith wrote.
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