ROCKY MOUNT (WSLS 10) - A Rocky Mount man, who may be the only person in Virginia convicted under a law banning the hanging of a noose to intimidate another person, apologized during his sentencing Tuesday.
Jack Turner said during the sentencing hearing, the situation had "been blown out of proportion," while explaining he never mean to hurt anyone by hanging a dummy noose from a tree in his front yard.
"I never meant to hurt anyone's feelings or to make them feel bad. I did something stupid that I regret," Turner said to a judge.
Turner's lawyer said the case should have been a matter of personal property rights, but the judge sided with the commonwealth - saying there is an intimidation factor present in the act of displaying a noose. So the judge sentenced Turner to 5 years in jail, with 4.5 years suspended. He will spend six months in jail.
The law went into effect in 2009
Hanging of noose; penalty. Provides that hanging a noose on the property of another or in a public place with the intent to intimidate is a Class 6 felony.
In addition to apologizing, Turner told the judge he would not do anything like this again, and is not racist.
Turner was convicted on the charge of hanging a noose in September and allowed to remain free with the condition of good behavior. However, he was arrested in early December for a bond violation. He now faces accusations of displaying a sign in his front yard with a racial slur and the phrase "got rope?"
Turner's lawyer said the sign is protected by the First Amendment, but the sheriff's office said it was also an act of intimidation.
Several of Turner's family members were visibly emotional in the courtroom during the sentencing hearing. His niece, who talked to exclusively to WSLS 10 after the sentencing, said she accepted her uncle's apology.
"He's fun, loving," Turner's niece Brittany Twigg's said. "He enjoys taking my children to movies. He's loving and family oriented. This is just a shock to the whole family."
But his neighbors, who testified during the trial, weren't convinced. They said they are scared after the noose incident, and now the sign.
One neighbor said, "I don't wanna judge by the color of their skin. If you treat me right, I'm gonna treat you right. To be threatened; I don't think it's acceptable."
Meanwhile, Turner maintains it was all a "stupid" mistake on his part.
"I have made friends that are black and I think the world of them," Turner told the judge in court.
WSLS 10 reached out to the commonwealth's attorney for comment on the sentencing, but he was not available. Turner's attorney said they plan to appeal the sentence.