A judge in southeastern Louisiana Wednesday rejected a motion by a black defendant to move a case because he worried the presence of a Confederate statue in front of the courthouse inhibits his ability to get a fair trial.
Ronnie Anderson is charged with illegal possession of a stolen firearm in East Feliciana Parish, which is about 110 miles (177 kilometers) northwest of New Orleans. Anderson and his lawyer, Niles Haymer, have argued the 30-foot-high (9-meter-high) statute of the unknown Confederate soldier erected in 1909 during the Jim Crow era in front of the courthouse is a "symbol of oppression and racial intolerance." They filed a motion in September pushing for a change of venue.
"Defendant believes that this Confederate Monument displayed prominently in front of the East Feliciana Parish Courthouse carries a message to African Americans of intimidation and oppression, communicating that justice may not be fair and impartial at a Courthouse that was nostalgic and sentimental over the institution of slavery that the Confederacy fought for," the motion read.
But Haymer said Judge Kathryn Jones rejected the motion. Haymer says his defendant is weighing his options but if the case goes to trial as scheduled next February, he will plan to ask prospective jurors about the statue.
District Attorney Sam D'Aquilla said he agrees with the judge's ruling and that the defendant failed to demonstrate any prejudice that would require the case to be moved. D'Aquilla said he objected to people from outside the parish coming in and stirring up racial divides where there were none. He pointed out the racial diversity among the various governing bodies across the parish.
"We really work hard to make sure justice is color-blind here," he said.
A judge rejected a similar motion in August, saying Haymer filed too late. But at the time the judge also threw out a serious firearms charge against Anderson. When the district attorney filed a new felony charge against Anderson, involving illegal possession of a stolen firearm, Haymer and Anderson refiled their motion to change the venue over the Confederate statue.
Confederate flags and monuments have come under renewed scrutiny following the 2015 shooting by Dylann Roof of nine black churchgoers in South Carolina and the 2017 deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Supporters say the statues are a part of history honoring their ancestors; detractors say they, in effect, honor slavery and in many cases were erected during the Jim Crow era to intimidate black people and bolster white supremacy.