Assistant District Attorney Rachael Groffsky dismissed the case against Brandon Kersey of Crabtree on Sept. 27 because evidence showed that he was not aware of what was taking place at the time of the crime.
“All of the co-defendants indicated that he was so intoxicated that the only reason he went was because they put him in the trunk,” Groffsky said.
Kersey was one of four Tuscola High School students charged after allegedly burning a cross in the yard of a biracial classmate. The action led to charges of felony conspiracy, burning a cross with the intent to intimidate, also a felony, and burning a cross in another person’s property without permission, a misdemeanor.
Another teen involved in the incident, Matthew Mitchell of Fines Creek, pled guilty in February.
“All the evidence showed that Matthew (Mitchell) was the principal in this,” Groffsky said.
Mitchell was sentenced to 18 months supervised probation with 100 hours of community service. If he does not fulfill the obligations set by his probation, he would face five to 15 months of jail time.
A third suspect, Ben Greene, a Tuscola football player, will next appear in court on Dec. 16, though his case has been repeatedly continued.
The track record of prosecutors in the cross burning case is disappointing so far to Helen Geltman, an organizer with Change Makers for Racial Understanding in Haywood County.
Of the four young men charged with cross burning, one was a minor, whose name cannot be released, but charges against him were not pursued.
But of the other three, it doesn’t seem like justice is being served very well, according to Geltman.
“Greene is being given a free ride, free ride, free ride,” Geltman said of the court case being delayed every time it came up — and now isn’t even on the trial docket until Dec. 16, more than 18 months after the incident.
So far, the only one who has been found guilty is a Native American, she said. Mitchell was convinced to plead guilty after being told that the other boys were all going to testify against him, Geltman said. Mitchell regretted his guilty plea almost immediately, according to Geltman, who finds it ironic that a Native American is the only one brought to justice so far in the racially motivated crime while the white men either got off or have seen their case delayed.
Change Makers for Racial Understanding has met with both law enforcement and prosecution to advocate for the victim’s rights in the cross burning and make a case for restorative justice, a type of creative sentencing that aims to heal the victim and reform the suspects’ way of thinking, using things like direct dialogue between the victim and suspects, therapy and role-playing scenarios.
The group also met with the county school board to encourage the school system to take the charges seriously, considering all the students were back in school together — the victim and suspects alike — following the incident.