The Virginia Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld the felony conviction of a man who hung a Black, life-size dummy from a noose in his front yard on the same day of the Charleston Church shooting that left nine Black parishioners dead.
According to The Washington Post, an Appeals Court ruled that Virginia’s law prohibiting the display of a noose with intent to intimidate is constitutional, and that the heinous act itself is not protected under the First Amendment.
On June 17, 2015 — the very day 22-year-old Dylann Roof opened fire on a group of unsuspecting churchgoers — a passerby in Franklin County, Va., reported seeing an “all-black, life-size dummy hanging by a noose from a tree,” according to a statement from the Virginia Attorney General’s Office.
Jack Eugene Turner, 53, admitted to hanging the “dark-colored” doll in his front yard as he was in the midst of a heated feud with his Black neighbors. The Roanoke Times reported that Turner was found guilty of violating state law and sentenced to six months in jail. His attorneys sought to appeal the case earlier this year.
In court, lawyers tried to argue that the offensive act was protected as free speech under the First Amendment, and that because Turner displayed the dummy on private property and not “on a highway or other public place,” he wasn’t in violation of state law.
Judge Robert J. Humphreys, who presided over the case, didn’t see it that way, though. The judge ultimately rejected Turner’s appeal and affirmed his previous conviction.
“The evidence was sufficient to support the Circuit Court’s conclusion that the offense occurred in a public place,” Humphreys wrote in his 16-page opinion. “Turner displayed a noose and dummy in a place and manner to communicate threats to others with the intent to place members of the public in fear of violence and bodily harm.”
The hanged dummy was confiscated by authorities soon after it was reported, but Turner followed up by hanging a Confederate flag on his front porch and another in a window facing his Black neighbors’ home. The bigotry didn’t stop there, however, according to The Roanoke Times.
While awaiting sentencing, Turner was re-arrested for violating the terms of his bond by spray painting a cardboard sign that read “Black n-ggers lives don’t matter, got rope?” and displaying it on the side of his home, the local paper reported.
One of the the victims in the case, neighbor John Mitchell, testified in Turner’s trial and spoke to the fear and intimidation his family felt from the outwardly racist displays.
“If he can hang a noose, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Mitchell said in court. “I fear for my family’s safety. Every morning, I walk out my door [and wonder], is somebody going to shoot me in the back?”
Turner is the first person in Virginia to be convicted under the fairly new noose law, which was passed in 2009, according to The Roanoke Times. The charge is a Class 6 felony and carries penalties of up to five years behind bars and a $2,500 fine.
Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring expressed satisfaction with the judge’s decision.
“The Commonwealth will not tolerate expressions of hate, intolerance or bigotry intended to intimidate people because of their race,” Herring said in a statement. “The display of a noose as a threat has rightly been banned in Virginia because it is an unmistakable signal that evokes the horrific and shameful specter of lynching.”
Turner has since apologized for his “senseless and cruel” actions, but his attorney said they plan to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court.