RICHMOND (CN) – The Virginia Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction of a Rocky Mount man who hung a black mannequin by the neck in his front yard to intimidate his black neighbors.
Jack Eugene Turner was arrested in June 2015 after deputies were called to his home by neighbors who were disturbed by the display.
At trial, Franklin County sheriff’s Capt. Paul Caldwell testified the Turner initially tried to convince the deputies that the mannequin was a scarecrow, but later admitted he intended it to scare black neighbors with whom he was then engaged in an ongoing dispute.
Caldwell told the court Turner proclaimed himself a racist who did like some black people, but not “[a racial slur].”
At trial,Turner argued he did nothing wrong because the display was on his own private property. However the court disagreed, holding that while the display was on Turner’s property, it was clearly visible to passersby on the public road in front of his home.
Virginia Circuit Court Judge Joseph Canada ruled Turner violated a 2009 Virginia statute that prohibits hanging a noose to intimidate someone, a felony that carries penalties ranging from no jail time to up to five years in prison and fines of $2,500.
Turner appealed his conviction continuing to argue he had not violated the law because the noose and dangling, life-size mannequin was displayed on his private property.
But in an opinion published Thursday, state Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Ann McClanahan said Turner was wrong and his conviction must be upheld.
McClanahan explained that the law in question relies on two factors: displaying a threatening effigy on someone else’s private property and displaying something with “the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons, displays a noose on a highway or other public place.”
Turner’s display might have been on his private land, but its location, only 10 to 15 feet from a public street, “unmistakably falls within the purview of the Code.”
In a statement released after McClanahan’s ruling was announced, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said, “We cannot be complacent about the rise in white supremacist extremism and violence, and we cannot allow hateful displays like this one to go unchallenged.
“The display of a noose is an unmistakable message designed to intimidate and invoke the horrors and disgraceful legacy of lynching. We must make it clear that all Virginians have the right to live, work, and raise their families free of fear and intimidation,” Herring said.