Ole Miss

Austin Edenfield: Former Ole Miss Student Pleads Guilty To Putting Noose On Iconic Statue

Austin Edenfield, 21, a former student and fraternity member at the University of Mississippi, has admitted to placing a confederate flag on the James Meredith statue and a noose around its neck in 2014 in an attempt to intimidate the university’s black faculty and students.

On October 1, 1962, James Meredith became the first black student to enroll at the university. Federal authorities had to send over 3,000 soldiers and 500 police officers to quell the riots that surfaced from the integration of black and white students. Two people were killed, with over 200 more injured.

Edenfield, a Georgia resident, pleaded guilty while waiving his right to a formal indictment on Thursday. He remains free pending his sentencing. The Independent reports that Austin Edenfield entered his plea before an Oxford federal judge. He is now facing up to 12 months in prison and a $100,000 fine. However, prosecutors are recommending probation.

Prosecutors say, Graeme Harris, one of Austin Edenfield’s fraternity brothers, hatched the plan to place the noose in the dead of night after getting drunk with Edenfield and a third student at the Sigma Phil Epsilon fraternity campus. According to reports, Harris objected to living in a “N****r dorm” and wanted to get back at the school and black people.

According to documents, he said “It’s James Meredith. People will go crazy.” Austin Edenfield, Graeme Harris, and the third student even returned to the scene the next morning to appreciate their handiwork.

Harris pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of intimidating African-American students as well as employees at the university after prosecutors decided to drop a stiffer penalty. However, Edenfield admitted tying the noose around Mr. Meredith’s statue.

Harris’ lawyer said his client does not deserve prison time because he deeply regrets his actions, which were influenced by alcohol. The attorney also said Harris apologized to Mr. Meredith. Harris was sentenced to six months in prison, which would be followed by 12 months of supervised release. He is presently being held in Butner, North Carolina, at a minimum-security prison. He will be released July 1.

Fraternity and Ole Miss officials said they had discovered a common problem of hazing and underage drinking, which violated Sigma Phi Epsilon and university rules.

In 2010, the national office intervened to repair similar problems. In an interview with CBS, Dean of Students Sparky Reardon discussed the issue.

“We are disappointed that a pattern of bad behavior and serious, inexcusable hazing occurred within the chapter, periodic reports and meetings with local alumni and national headquarters led us to believe that the chapter was improving.”

Sigma Phi Epsilon CEO, Brian Warren, said the group had “no other choice” but to close down the unit. “Though it’s always painful to close a chapter, these students’ actions clearly illustrate a determination to perpetuate an experience based on risky and unconstructive behavior,” he said.

Administrators have consistently fought against the university’s “Old South” reputation by banning Confederate flags at football games and dropping the Colonel Reb mascot in 2010, replacing it with a black bear.

These efforts were, however, undermined with the election night disturbances of November 2012, when some students spouted profanity and racial slurs when President Obama was reelected into office.

Over 100 students gathered at the student union chanting political slogans and making derogatory racial statements. The incident coincided with the 50th anniversary of the forced integration of Ole Miss and the enrollment of its first African-American student, James Meredith.

Austin Edenfield was released on his own recognizance pending sentencing.

[Image via fasthorses / Shutterstock.com]

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