District Attorney Roger Echols announced Tuesday afternoon that he is dropping the charges against the five remaining people accused of destroying a Confederate statue in downtown Durham last summer.
The announcement follows a long day in District Court Monday in which a judge acquitted one defendant, Raul Mauro Jimenez, and dismissed the charges against two others, Peter Gilbert and Dante Strobino, after an assistant district attorney presented all her evidence.
The judge said the prosecution failed to prove the defendants were guilty of three misdemeanors: injury to real property, defacing a public building or monument and conspiracy to deface a public building or monument.
Prosecutors presented all of the admissible evidence available, Echols said. Since his office planned to present the same evidence against the remaining defendants, it no longer made sense to prosecute the case, he said.
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“For my office to continue to take these cases to trial based on the same evidence would be a misuse of state resources,” Echols said.
But the district attorney said he still believes the original decision was the right one
“Acts of vandalism, regardless of noble intent, are still a violation of law,” he said.
The remaining defendants were Takiyah Thompson, Elena Everett, Jessica Nicole Jude, Qasima Wideman and Joseph Karlik. Their trials were expected to take place April 2.
Defense Attorney Scott Holmes said Echols made the right decision. He also thinks the base of the Durham County monument should be removed and that the Constitution provides a legal basis to remove all Confederate monuments outside courthouses in North Carolina.
Sheriff Mike Andrews said the Sheriff’s Office has done its job.
“We applied the law for the removal and damage of public property – just as we would in any other case,” Andrews said in a statement. “It’s up to the court system to decide what happens next. The Sheriff’s Office is going to continue doing its job by serving and protecting our community and upholding the law.”
12 initially charged
During Monday’s trials, Assistant District Attorney Ameshia Cooper struggled to introduce evidence and witness statements that clearly connected the defendants with being responsible for toppling the statue.
“The court finds the state has failed to identify who the perpetrator was. ... Furthermore, the court has noted there is no evidence of a conspiracy,” District Court Judge Fred Battaglia said after the first trial.
Cooper introduced two main pieces of video evidence.
The first was a video taken by Durham resident Kelly Murphy, which was picked up by the Associated Press and published by The Washington Post. The video, possibly taken standing on East Main Street, shows the statue falling to the ground.
A Durham County official recorded the second video from the steps of the old courthouse and administration building where the statue stood.
Ed Miller, Durham County security manager, said he saw out of the corner of his eye a man with a ladder. Miller then pulled out his phone and started recording. The video shows two men putting a ladder up to the back of the statue and a woman, Takiyah Thompson, with a yellow tow strap climbing the ladder.
Miller identified one of those men with the ladder as Jimenez, who is also seen manipulating the strap as Thompson climbed the ladder, Miller said.
Cooper said they set out evidence to support that the statue was damaged, and that Jimenez held the ladder helped with the rope. His actions indicate he was working with others to make it happen.
Holmes argued that the defense hadn’t proven the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Cross-racial identification is unreliable, a point he demonstrated in court by asking Miller if Cooper and another woman looked similar.
Miller said no.
“We heard from the state’s own witness that identified my client in the video who said that this person does not look like this person, her [identical] twin sister,” he said.
Many questions remain in the case, such as why there wasn’t more evidence.
During the toppling, law enforcement stood on the steps of the old courthouse. Some shot video. Also, after the toppling, deputies issued search warrants, went into people’s homes, ripping mattresses, taking computers, paper and other items of people who were charged said at the time.
Echols declined to take any questions after Tuesday’s press conference.
Twelve people were initially charged with two felonies and two misdemeanors after the Aug. 14 demonstration, but Echols later decided to not to pursue the felony charges. He next dropped charges against three of the 12, saying he did not have sufficient evidence to link them to the toppling of the statue.
On Tuesday, Echols also announced that he would dismiss the charges against against Loan Tran, who in December accepted deferred prosecution on three misdemeanors. Tran had also agreed to pay $1,250 in restitution and perform 100 hours of community service.
“In this case, fairness requires that similar cases be treated similarly,” Echols said..
After the trials, the N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans issued a statement saying it wished to “register their continued disgust with Durham County’s complete disregard for law and order.”
“As a smirking defense clumsily laid out its case with nothing but obfuscation of the facts and irrelevant theories as to the origin of the Confederate monument, the prosecution fumbled to make even the most basic case to support the charges,” the statement said. “There is no true justice in Durham – there is only the will of the political party in control and their open sympathy with the violent, twisted objectives of the Workers World Party.”
Some of the people charged with toppling the statue are affiliated with the communist group Workers World Party.
During the Aug. 14 protest, Thompson climbed a ladder, placed a yellow tow strap around the bronze statue in front of the old courthouse on East Main Street and others pulled it to the ground. The statue crumpled when it hit the ground and protesters started kicking it. The protest, which attracted national attention, followed the clash between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia., that preceding weekend