Nineteen months after three University of Mississippi students had draped an old Georgia state flag and a noose around the statue of the first African American on campus — James Meredith— one defendant was sentenced to prison in federal court in Oxford yesterday. Sandra Knispel reports.
A somber-looking Graeme Phillip Harris, clutching his hands tightly through much of the proceedings, told Federal District Judge Michael Mills that he was truly sorry and wanted to apologize to James Meredith, the Ole Miss community, and his own family.
The judge, while taking into consideration that large amounts of alcohol had been consumed, also looked at the student’s prior record that included multiple arrests for alcohol and disorderly conduct. He told the defendant: “You were re-enacting a lynching. I can’t think of a worse place for you to have done that. When you have the freedom to act you also have consequences.” The consequence, he said, was punishment, that Harris “had escaped thus far.”
Federal prosecutor Chad Lamar sums up the sentence: “Mr. Harris was sentenced to six months in prison, 12 months supervised release, following that 100 hours of community service. No fine in this instance but he was ordered to pay $25 special assessment.”
During the sentencing, Harris’s father repeatedly muttered an obscenity commonly abbreviated as B.S. — earning himself a forceful eviction warning from a marshal in the courtroom. Afterward, Brandi Hephner LaBanc, the university’s Vice Chancellor for student affairs, seemed relieved.
“I’m just happy that we’ve worked through this and we are at a place where our campus community can move forward and hopefully allow the healing to begin.”
Harris had pleaded guilty in June to a misdemeanor charge of threatening force to intimidate African-American students and employees at the university. In exchange for that plea, prosecutors had dropped a stiffer felony charge. The judge, noting that he was glad that Harris was back at a university, delayed the start of the prison term to the beginning of January of 2016 — so that Harris could finish first his current semester. Harris told the judge that he wants to change his life.