Charges dismissed in cross burning case
The charges against another teen alleged to have burned a cross to intimidate a 14-year-old biracial girl last year have been dismissed.
Brandon Kersey, now 18, was accused of conspiring with three other Tuscola High School classmates to burn a cross where the victim, who was also a classmate, was spending the night with a friend in May last year.
According to court documents, the boys soaked a T-shirt in gasoline, wrapped it around a homemade plywood cross and placed it upright in the yard, setting it ablaze.
A neighbor saw the charred cross when she walked outside the next morning to pick up her mail, said Assistant District Attorney Rachael Groffsky during court.
After being contacted by the victim, the defendants came to the home and admitted responsibility for the crime, but law enforcement was not notified until the victim called her mother later that evening.
Matthew Mitchell pleaded guilty to a felony for his role in the incident in February and was placed on supervised probation and ordered to serve 100 hours of community service.
The victim said the defendants, especially Mitchell, bullied her at school prior to the incident by making fun of her hair and making racist comments and gestures.
Groffsky said in order to prosecute Kersey, she would have had to prove that he placed or caused the placement of the burning cross that night. She would also have had to prove that he did it with the intent to intimidate another person.
However, in Kersey’s case, evidence led the state to believe that he was not actively involved in the incident.
“All the evidence in the case showed that the only reason he was along with the boys was because they did not feel comfortable leaving him alone because he had consumed a large amount of alcohol,” Groffsky said.
Mitchell’s attorney, Roy Patton, admitted to the court that his client and the other boys had been “drinking heavily” that night.
Two of the other teens involved in the case said that Kersey had no knowledge of what was even happening and that he was sitting in the truck while the incident occurred.
During a superior court session in early September, a third defendant in the case, Benjamin Greene, entered into a formal deferred prosecution. During the hearing, Judge Marvin Pope ordered that he complete 90 hours of community service and write an apology letter to the victim. If successfully completed within six months, the charges against him will be dismissed.
Groffsky said the state agreed to this because Greene provided truthful statements to the state implicating his involvement in the incident, he was cooperative with law enforcement and he aided the state in providing evidence that led to Mitchell’s conviction.
Greene has continued to play football at Tuscola High School since he was charged, but was barred from playing 20 percent of games last season. Mitchell was no longer allowed in school after his felony conviction in February.
A fourth boy at the scene, who was a juvenile and cannot be named, was never charged with a crime.
In the end, prosecutors maintain that Mitchell played the primary role in the incident.
“We feel like the most culpable defendant in this case received the highest punishment and was convicted of a felony and we believe it’s an appropriate resolution,” Groffsky said.