UNC Protesters Reject Plea Deals

Jesse James Deconto, News & Observer (Raleigh), June 2, 2009

Charges against seven campus protesters will be heard in September after one had her case continued and the others rejected plea agreements Monday.

Haley Koch, a Morehead-Cain scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill, faces a charge of disturbing the peace at a protest against former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo’s speech April 14.

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Her case and those of six other protesters in a second campus incident now will be heard Sept. 14.

The other defendants protested at an April 22 speech by former U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia, who also favors stricter immigration policies.

Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman offered to dismiss the charges of five of the six Goode defendants after six months if they stayed off the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, committed no other crimes, performed 24 hours of community service and paid a $200 community service fee.

That “deferred prosecution” arrangement would have required them to admit guilt, which the protesters rejected.

“A lot of the defendants feel that they’re not guilty, and so taking a plea would be dishonest,” said Michael Bandes, 25, who spoke on behalf of the group.

Bandes had a prior criminal record and was offered a plea agreement that would have required him paying a $100 fine plus court costs. He rejected that.

“It’s important not to just let the university get this over with quickly and win,” said Bandes. “Just because you own this town doesn’t mean you can just do whatever you want here.

“They’re allowing a white supremacist group in our community, and we’re just supposed to sit down and take it,” he said.

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Koch spoke at a rally in front of the courthouse after Monday’s hearing. So did her father, award-winning filmmaker Chris Koch, who has observed peaceful anti-war and pro-civil rights demonstrations over the years.

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Koch’s mother, Susan, was also there, along with family friend Hodding Carter, who was White House press secretary under President Jimmy Carter and now teaches at UNC-CH.

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The UNC Protesters Defense Committee, which organized the rally, called on Thorp to dissolve Youth for Western Civilization. Haley Koch said allowing speech against immigrants would fuel donations and membership for more violent groups.

“A culture of hate breeds a culture of violence,” she said. “This isn’t about people just saying things. This is about people who hope to perpetrate violence.”

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[Editor’s Note: Stories concerning Haley Koch are listed here. Stories about the disruption of Tom Tancredo’s appearance are listed here.]

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