- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

ROCKY MOUNT, Va. (AP) - A Virginia man accused of hanging a black-faced dummy in his yard where his black neighbors could see it has been convicted of violating a state law against displaying a noose to intimidate people.

A judge returned a guilty verdict Tuesday against 51-year-old Jack Turner of Rocky Mount. Turner could face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $2,500.

Multiple news outlets report Turner was arrested in June after hanging a life-sized dummy wearing a black ski mask from a tree in his yard. Turner initially told investigators the dummy was a scarecrow, said Franklin County Sheriff’s Capt. Paul Caldwell. However, Turner later said the figure was meant to scare people and that he is racist.

A 2009 Virginia statute makes it a felony to display a noose with the intent of intimidating someone. Prosecutor Robert Deatherage said he believes this is the first time someone had been convicted under the statute.

Neighbors John and Kena Mitchell, who are African American, testified that Turner was cordial when they first moved into a house next door to him in November 2013. Relations gradually soured, they said, and Turner began calling the police to report disturbances. They also testified that Turner raised his middle finger to them on several occasions.

On the afternoon of June 17 - the same day that nine black churchgoers were massacred in Charleston, South Carolina - the dummy was hung in the noose in Mitchell’s yard.

Since Turner’s arrest, he has displayed a Confederate flag on his porch and another in a window that faces the Mitchells’ home, witnesses said.

“If he can hang a noose, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I fear for my family’s safety,” John Mitchell said in court.

Defense attorney Holland Perdue argued the noose was displayed on private property, while the state law applies to nooses displayed in a “public place.” He said in this case, it amounted to constitutionally protected free speech. The defense plans to appeal the judge’s decision, Perdue said.

Turner is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 8 in Franklin County Circuit Court.

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