Found guilty: Theologian banned from UVA for life appeals decision

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Anti-racist activist Eric Martin was found guilty of trespassing in UVA’s law library, where he entered and refused to leave a private room where Jason Kessler was studying. He’s appealing the conviction. Contributed photo Anti-racist activist Eric Martin was found guilty of trespassing in UVA’s law library, where he entered and refused to leave a private room where Jason Kessler was studying. He’s appealing the conviction. Contributed photo

When about 40 protesters gathered at the University of Virginia School of Law library April 25 to chase off Jason Kessler, one man was arrested—and it wasn’t the one who brought hundreds of torch-wielding white supremacists to Grounds.

Eric Martin, a local activist and theologian, entered the private room where Kessler was studying, sat down, and quietly began reading The Rise and Fall of Apartheid. On October 2, Judge William Barkley found Martin guilty of trespassing and sentenced him to 30 days in jail, with all of the time suspended on the condition of two years of good behavior. He has also been banned from UVA for life.

Martin says he entered the room because he and the other protesters were unsure whether university officials were providing a safe space for Kessler.

“I just thought it would help clarify the status—does he have a private office or not?” Martin told C-VILLE in May. “And the second thing I thought was, ‘Hold up. They had eight months to protect their students by barring this white supremacist who brought people that maced and beat students and beat one of the librarians into a stroke.’”

A Charlottesville police officer and Stephen Parr, the law school’s chief administrative officer, asked Martin to leave the private librarian’s room. When Martin politely declined, as heard on a police body cam video shown in court, he was arrested for trespassing and removed in handcuffs.

Martin has appealed his conviction, and a trial date will be set in December, according to his attorney, Bruce Williamson.

“You don’t go to courtrooms for any kind of justice,” said Bill Streit, Martin’s friend, supporter, and fellow theologian, outside the courthouse. “If we lived in a just society, there would be no racism. White supremacy would be reconciled by justice.”

Kessler, meanwhile, has been banned from Grounds for four years.

In other white supremacy-related court news, Tyler Davis, the Florida man accused of participating in the August 12, 2017, Market Street Parking Garage beating of DeAndre Harris, pleaded not guilty to malicious wounding in Charlottesville Circuit Court on October 4. He’ll go to trial in February, while two others who participated in the beating have already been found guilty and are serving six and eight year sentences.

And Baltimore-based KKK leader Richard Preston was in the same courtroom that day, to request new counsel for an appeal.

In May, Preston pleaded no contest and was found guilty of firing a gun within 1,000 feet of a school on the day of the Unite the Right rally, when Corey Long famously pointed an improvised flamethrower in the vicinity of the Klansman. Both men claimed to be acting in self-defense, and Preston was sentenced to four years in prison.

In entering the no contest plea, Preston waived all rights to an appeal, says legal expert David Heilberg. However, if Preston wants to object to the advice he received from his lawyer, he has to exhaust the state appeals process first before he can file a habeas petition to complain about the legal representation he got.

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