RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia man who was sentenced to six months in jail for hanging a black-faced dummy by a noose in his front yard asked the state Supreme Court Wednesday to overturn his conviction, arguing that his free speech rights were violated.
Jack Eugene Turner of Rocky Mount was convicted in 2015 of violating a state law that prohibits hanging a noose to intimidate. Turner, who’s white, was upset with his black neighbors.
The 2009 law bars the display of a noose on a highway or other public place “in a manner having a direct tendency to place another person in reasonable fear or apprehension of death or bodily injury.”
During a hearing before the Virginia Supreme Court, Turner’s lawyer, C. Holland Purdue III, argued the law only prohibits displays of nooses on public land, not on private property. He said private property cannot be considered a public place. He also said defining anything visible from a highway as a “public place is dangerous.”
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Assistant Attorney General Christopher Schandevel said Turner “does not have an absolute right to make a true threat on private property.” He said a true threat is not protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.
Turner served his jail sentence and appealed his conviction, which was upheld by the Virginia Court of Appeals. He appealed to the state Supreme Court.
It wasn’t immediately clear when the high court will rule.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that residents called the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in 2015 to report the hanging dummy. Turner initially told the sheriff’s office the dummy was a scarecrow, but changed his story after it was pointed out that he did not have a garden.
From 1877 to 1950, there were more than 4,000 lynchings of African-Americans in Southern states, 84 of them in Virginia, according to a study by the Equal Justice Initiative. The noose is widely considered a symbol of hate and intimidation.