DURHAM, N.C. >> A judge dismissed the criminal case Monday against the first of eight protesters standing trial on charges of toppling a Confederate statue last summer in North Carolina.
Dante Strobino appeared in court for a brief trial on three misdemeanor counts including defacing a public building or monument and conspiracy. Seven others are expected to be tried individually on similar charges in the August 2017 toppling of the monument in Durham.
After prosecutors rested their case, Durham County District Court Judge Fred Battaglia granted a defense motion to dismiss the charges against Strobino because of insufficient evidence. Battaglia ruled that neither video of the protest shown in court nor testimony from several witnesses had positively identified Strobino as one of the people who tore the statue down. He also ruled they hadn’t proven there was a conspiracy.
“The court finds that the state has failed in their attempt to identify who the perpetrator was, at least as to this defendant,” said Battaglia, who’s hearing the case without a jury.
The protesters were initially charged with felony rioting and misdemeanor property damage after the statue of an anonymous rebel was toppled Aug. 14, days after a deadly white nationalist protest in Virginia that was triggered by a dispute over another Confederate monument. Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols announced weeks ago that he was dropping the felony charges.
The Durham statue had been in front of a local government building. One protester climbed a ladder to attach a rope while others pulled it down. Law enforcement officers watched and took video, but didn’t take action during the protest.
While statues elsewhere have been vandalized, the Durham case earned widespread attention because protesters succeeded in bringing it down. North Carolina is among a handful of Southern states with the most Confederate monuments. It also has a law preventing local officials from removing the statues.
The defendants in the Durham case have said that the statue represents racism. Proponents of leaving Confederate monuments in public places say that they are important historical markers and memorials to their ancestors.