Baltimore’s imperial wizard of the Confederate White Knights of the KKK did not appear in court wearing his shiny Klan robes. He didn’t wear the prison stripes from previous appearances, nor did he wear the bandana and tactical vest he sported August 12 when he was videoed firing a Ruger SR9 toward flamethrower-brandishing Corey Long.
Richard Wilson Preston wore a dark pinstriped suit and tie in Charlottesville Circuit Court May 8 when he told a judge that he was pleading no contest to a charge of discharging a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school, a class 4 felony that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and fine up to $100,000.
Even though his plea was no contest, his mutton-chopped, boater-hat-wearing attorney from Blairs, Virginia,—Elmer Woodard—objected when Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania read a statement of facts of evidence the commonwealth would have presented had there been the three-day trial scheduled to begin May 9.
Judge Rick Moore had to remind Woodard, “You can’t object when you plead no contest.”
One of the witnesses would have been former Charlottesville mayor Frank Buck, whom Platania said saw Long ignite an aerosol spray can directed toward people leaving Emancipation Park after the Unite the Right rally was declared an unlawful assembly. Buck also saw Preston pull out a silver handgun and point it toward the ground beside Long, and he heard someone shout a racial slur at Long and then a gunshot, according to the prosecutor.
Moore found the evidence as summarized “substantial,” and corroborated by bullet fragments and Preston’s own admission to the FBI after his arrest August 26. He scheduled sentencing for May 9, but warned he still could order a pre-sentence report before sentencing Preston.
Legal expert David Heilberg says the no contest plea is unusual, but it’s the “functional equivalent of a guilty plea.” He also said that if a jury had convicted Preston, they would not have been able to give him fewer than two years.
In court today, Platania showed the judge videos taken earlier on August 12 in which the C-VILLE Weekly box was hurled and Preston is heard saying, “I will go out and shoot you. I’ll shoot you.” In another he says, “I’m pissed off. I’m going to shoot one of these motherfuckers,” to which Woodard objected that the video doesn’t show Preston making the latter comment.
“I saw him say it with his mouth moving,” said Moore.
Woodard, dressed in a seersucker suit and red tie, presented four witnesses who testified they felt endangered by Long. Jonathan Howe, a law clerk in Maryland who was here for the rally, said he’d gotten doused with “some kind of paint thinner” as he left the park.
“This was a very surreal moment,” he said. “I had a flammable substance on my hand and someone running around with a flamethrower.” He said he was apprehensive that he could become a “human torch.”
Woodard had subpoenaed DeAndre Harris, the man who was brutally beaten in the Market Street Parking Garage. It was after 10:30am when Woodard asked if Harris were present. “The time to ask that might have been 9:30,” observed the judge.
And although Platania stipulated that paint thinner is volatile and ignites quickly, Woodard showed the judge a clip of Harris and Long spraying a Confederate flag and lighting it, noting “the flame and puff.”
Witness David Fowler said “one little girl got me three times” with pepper spray. He says he was unable to see and being helped out of the park when he heard the whoosh of the aerosol can. “As far as I’m concerned, [Preston] is a hero,” said Fowler. “We shouldn’t be here.”
Gregory Scott “Woodsy” Woods from Glasgow, Virginia, also encountered Long as he left the park and described swinging his flagpole at Long and knocking the aerosol out of his hand after Long “kind of charges at me with the flamethrower.” Woods said he could feel the heat and was trapped on the steps leading to the park until Preston fired his gun.
Under cross examination, Woods denied he said Long was charging at him after Platania showed him a video, which was not visible to the rest of the courtroom. “Once he lights it, he takes a step forward,” said Woods.
Not all of the witnesses were present at the exit from Emancipation Park. Daryl Davis, a black musician who’s known for befriending Klansmen to understand why they hate him in hopes of dispelling that, testified he’s known Preston for five years and they both live in the Baltimore area.
Davis said he put up 50 percent of Preston’s bond and was going to take him to see the African American Museum of History in Washington, but Preston’s house arrest prevented that visit. And when shown apparently racist comments Preston posted on Facebook after August 12—those were not read in court—Davis said he regrets those sentiments.
“I’m testifying because he’s my friend,” said Davis. “He’s in trouble and I’m trying to help.”
After three hours in the courtroom, Moore, as he’d predicted, ordered a pre-sentence report and set August 21 for Preston’s sentencing.