Teen convicted of cross burning
A Waynesville teen was recently convicted for his role in a cross-burning incident directed toward a 14-year-old girl in May 2012.
Matthew Wyatt Mitchell, who was 17 at the time of the crime, pleaded guilty to felony cross burning with the intent to intimidate during superior court Monday.
Three other teens, including a juvenile who cannot be named, were arrested in late June in connection with the crime. Benjamin Charlie Greene and Brandon Kersey, both 17, face the same charges and are scheduled to appear in court at a later date.
Charges were not pursued against the juvenile.
The four conspired to burn a cross in the yard of a private home in Clyde where the girl was spending the night with some friends the night of May 4, 2012.
According to court documents, Mitchell helped soak a T-shirt in gasoline, wrap it around a homemade plywood cross and place it upright in the yard where they set it on fire.
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.
According to witness statements, Groffsky said Mitchell did not seem apologetic and acted arrogant.
The victim said the defendants had been bullying her at school, making fun of her hair, making racist jokes and making gestures that looked like a noose.
Groffsky said in order to charge Mitchell with the higher felony, the state was required to show his intent to intimidate the victim through his actions.
“We believed that his actions prior to burning the cross such as the racist comments, ethnic jokes, and the gestures — that all went to his intent when he put the cross in the ground and that’s why we felt the felony was the most appropriate charge,” she said.
Mitchell pled guilty to the highest felony he was charged with.
“We thought that was an appropriate charge and we weren’t willing to back away from that based on the affect his actions had on the victim and on the community,” Groffsky said.
Mitchell’s attorney, Roy Patton, said he was under the influence of alcohol when he committed the crime and that he has a history of abusing alcohol.
“He realized it was out of hand when this incident occureed because he and the other boys had been drinking very heavily, some more heavily than others,” Patten said.
Since his arrest, Patten said Mitchell has been receiving therapy.
Superior Court Judge J. Thomas Davis placed Mitchell under supervised probation for 18 months and ordered that he must complete 100 hours of community service during the first 12 months.
If he violates the terms of his probation, Mitchell will spend between five and 15 months in a N.C. Department of Correction facility.
Pursuant to the plea, the state dismissed the other charges, which included burning a cross on the property of another without permission and felony conspiracy.
As a convicted felon, Mitchell will not be allowed to return to Tuscola High School, where he is a senior. He was also ordered to not have any contact with the victim.
The victim’s mother, Sharon Noland, said her daughter is ready to move on and continue enjoying church, school and sports without worrying about harassment from the boys.
“She has just been extremely strong. She stood up for what she believed in and I’m really proud of her for that. Maybe this will put the word out in the community that this type of behavior cannot be tolerated,” Noland said.