JACKSON, Miss. ― A judge has set a second guilty plea hearing for a man federal prosecutors say placed a noose on the University of Mississippi’s statue of its first Black student.
A federal court filing shows that Austin Reed Edenfield is scheduled to waive indictment and plead guilty March 24 to a criminal charge before U.S. District Judge Michael Mills in Oxford. Edenfield had been scheduled to plead guilty in September, but Mills delayed that court date for reasons that haven’t been publicly explained.
The filing doesn’t indicate what charge Edenfield faces. People typically agree to waive indictment and plead guilty in federal court as part of a plea bargain. A lawyer for Edenfield didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment late Wednesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Norman, in a June 18 court hearing, said Edenfield took part in the February 2014 incident. 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 in June that 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. The third man has not been charged.
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.
A Georgia resident, Harris 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.
After the noose and flag were placed on the statue on the night of Feb. 15, 2014, Norman said Harris and one of the other freshmen 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.