Education

Two accused of vandalizing UNC property turn down a plea offer and will go to trial

The rise and fall of Silent Sam

Silent Sam has stood on UNC-Chapel Hill's McCorkle Place for 105 years. On Monday August 20, 2018, it was brought down by protesters.
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Silent Sam has stood on UNC-Chapel Hill's McCorkle Place for 105 years. On Monday August 20, 2018, it was brought down by protesters.

Two people charged in April with vandalizing UNC property and stealing a university flag have declined a plea offer and are expected to be tried in September, an Orange County assistant district attorney said Tuesday.

William Massengale called the names of Ryan Francis Barnett and Nancy Rushton McCorkle at the opening of a district court session in the post office building on Franklin Street on Tuesday, but neither was present. Massengale said later that both defendants had been offered plea arrangements and had declined.

Barnett and McCorkle have been associated with Heirs to the Confederacy, a group that has clashed repeatedly with the Anti-Racist group on and off the UNC campus. The Heirs group wants the Confederate monument Silent Sam re-installed on campus. The Anti-Racist group was involved in pulling it to the ground in August 2018.

UNC Police arrested Barnett, of Sanford, and McCorkle, of Newberry, S.C., and ordered them to stay off the campus a week after someone vandalized the Unsung Founders Memorial and an outdoor exhibit near Hanes Art Center in April.

Police charged Barnett with two counts of vandalism, one count of ethnic intimidation and one count of public urination. McCorkle was charged with vandalism and ethnic intimidation. Investigators have said they used video surveillance footage to identify at least one of the vandals.

Both were charged with larceny in the theft of the flag, which appeared in photos on social media in the hands of protesters at an event in Hillsborough.

Police have said the ethnic intimidation charges were related to racist threats that were scrawled on the monument or the art exhibit as part of the vandalism. They were directed against at least two student activists. Police have not said exactly what was written on the monument or the art installation, but have said the vandals used permanent markers.

In a video posted on her Facebook page after a court appearance in May, McCorkle said she is not guilty of the charges against her.

“There’s no evidence, ‘cause we’re not guilty,” she said.

Members of the Anti-Racist group celebrated the arrests after complaining that UNC Police had treated student protesters and their supporters harshly, while offering handshakes and escorts to members of the Heirs group when they came to campus.

Protests, counter-protests and continuing clashes between groups opposed over Silent Sam have kept police, courts and university officials busy.

More than a dozen people charged with minor crimes related to the argument over Silent Sam already have had their days in court, with mixed results.

Maya Little, a UNC graduate student who threw what she said was a mixture of red paint and her own blood onto the statue in April 2018, was found guilty of defacing the monument in that incident. A court dismissed charges filed against Little in a December 2018 incident when police said she had incited a riot and assaulted an officer.

A university committee tasked with determining what to do with the exiled monument has yet to announce its ultimate fate. A commission created by interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz to review campus safety, including police-student relations, has held a couple of meetings.

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.
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