DURHAM, N. C. – A judge dismissed the criminal case Monday against the first of eight protesters standing trial on charges of overthrowing an Employee statue last summer in North Carolina.
Dante Strobino appeared in court for a short trial on three felony counts including the breach of a public building or monument, and conspiracy. Seven others are expected to be tried individually on similar charges in August 2017, toppling the monument in Durham.
After the plaintiffs rested their case, Durham County District Court Judge Fred Battaglia granted the defense motion to dismiss the charges against Strobino due to insufficient evidence. Battaglia ruled that neither video of the protest appear in the court nor the statements of various witnesses had identified Strobino as one of the people that tore the statue down. He also ruled that they have not yet proven that there was a conspiracy.
“The court finds that the government has failed in their attempt to determine who the culprit was, at least as to this defendant,” said Battaglia, who is hearing the case without a jury.
The protesters were initially charged with felony rioting and misdemeanor property damage after the statue of an anonymous rebel was deposited Aug. 14 days after a deadly white nationalist protest in Virginia that was caused by a dispute about a other Southern monument. Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols announced weeks ago that he was dropping the misdemeanor charges.
The Durham statue had been in front of a local government building. One of the protesters climbed a ladder to attach a rope, while others pulled it down. The police watched and took video, but didn’t have in action during the protest.
While the images elsewhere are destroyed, the Durham case gained wide attention because the protesters succeeded in making it down. North Carolina is one of a handful of of the Southern states, with the most Southern monuments. It also has a law preventing local officials from removing the images.
The defendants in the Durham case have said that the statue represents racism. Proponents of leaving the Southern monuments in public places that say that they are important historical markers and memorials of their ancestors.
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