Police believe that Williams wanted to keep his wife from leaving him after seven years. Donna Williams is white and did say it was a bit strange when she found the burning cross on the driveway with a note that she described as “They were watching us, I assumed me and the kids, and that I better not leave that [N-word].” The note was signed “KKK.” Police noted that who ever left the cross clearly did not want to damage the grass — a level of concern not common among racists. Then there was the uncommon concern of the KKK in preserving mixed marriages.
Cross burning cases remain controversial on a constitutional basis for many. I have serious first amendment problems with the use of this criminal law against people who burn crosses on private property as in the Black v. Virginia. In that case, the statute (upheld by the Court) read:
It shall be unlawful for any person or persons, with the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons, to burn, or cause to be burned, a cross on the property of another, a highway or other public place. Any person who shall violate any provision of this section shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony.
Any such burning of a cross shall be prima facie evidence of an intent to intimidate a person or group of persons.
Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-423 (Michie 1996).
Here there was an intent to intimidate or frighten, though it was short-lived given the absurd note. Below is the review of the statute in Florida.
Section 876.18 prohibits the placing of a flaming cross on the property of another without written permission:
876.18 Placing burning or flaming cross on property of another. — It shall be unlawful for any person or persons to place or cause to be placed on the property of another in the state a burning or flaming cross or any manner of exhibit in which a burning or flaming cross, real or simulated, is a whole or part without first obtaining written permission of the owner or occupier of the premises to so do. Any person who violates this section commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
The law suggests that burning crosses are allowed with permission, which helps address the free speech issues.
This case presents the rather novel issue, if this is the still relevant statute, that he is presumably one of the owners of the property. He had his own permission, of course, but not that of his wife. I expect none of this will matter with a plea bargain to the charges. I would hope that there would be an element of mercy exercised in the case for a stupid but not malicious act.
Here is the earlier decision: op-84013
Source: New Herald