Student pleads guilty to putting noose on statue

Student pleads guilty to putting noose on statue
Posted at 1:29 PM, Mar 24, 2016

A former University of Mississippi student pleaded guilty Thursday to placing a noose on the school's statue of its first black student.

Austin Reed Edenfield waived indictment and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge before U.S. District Judge Michael Mills in Oxford. The charge says Edenfield helped others threaten force to intimidate African-American students and employees at the university.

Mills will sentence Edenfield July 21. He faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine. The government has recommended probation.

The 21-year-old Georgia resident remains free pending sentencing. He declined comment after the hearing.

Edenfield admitted to taking part in a February 2014 incident during which a noose and a former Georgia state flag with a Confederate battle emblem were placed on the Ole Miss statue of James Meredith. He integrated the university in 1962 amid rioting that was suppressed by federal troops.

Prosecutors said another former student, Graeme Phillip Harris, hatched the plan to place the noose and flag on the statue after a night of drinking with Edenfield and a third freshman in the Sigma Phil Epsilon fraternity house on campus. They said Edenfield actually tied the noose on Meredith's statue after Harris couldn't do it.

Harris pleaded guilty in June to a misdemeanor charge of threatening force to intimidate African-American students and employees at the university after prosecutors agreed to drop a stiffer felony charge in exchange. His lawyer argued Harris didn't deserve prison, saying he'd written a letter of apology to Meredith after falling under the influence of racist traditions at the fraternity.

Harris, who is also from Georgia, was sentenced to six months in prison, followed by 12 months' supervised release. Federal Bureau of Prisons records show he's currently held at a minimum-security federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, and is scheduled to be released July 1.

Mills delayed a September court date when Edenfield had been scheduled to plead guilty.

The third man has not been charged.

After the noose and flag were placed on the statue on the night of Feb. 15, 2014, Edenfield and Harris returned at sunrise on Feb. 16 to observe and were filmed by a video camera at the Ole Miss student union.

All three of the students withdrew from Ole Miss, and the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity closed its chapter.