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Maya Little's honor court hearing complicated by resurfaced Silent Sam comments

Maya Little Honor Court
Maya Little pleaded not guilty to her charge of violating the honor code at her honor court hearing at the UNC Student Union on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018.

Maya Little had her day in court last week for the charge of defacing Silent Sam, but she has yet to receive a verdict from the Graduate and Professional Honor Court, which met Thursday to begin the fact-finding process that will result in a verdict from the University on her actions.

The proceedings were highlighted by a discovery made by the crowd while the hearing was in a recess: UNC law student Frank Pray, one of the five adjudicators that will decide Little’s fate, has made public comments on Silent Sam in a number of contexts.

In 2015, he spoke to the Board of Trustees on behalf of the UNC College Republicans, saying that “To change the monument in any substantial way that would disrespect that memory and disrespect our ancestors is quite frankly an insult to us and their memories.” 

In the same year, he called Silent Sam protestors “petulant children” in a 2015 Twitter comment. To complicate matters even further, he recipient of his insult, Altha Cravey, is on Little’s witness list. 

In a rush, the attendees of Little’s open hearing — comprised mostly of her supporters — shared the social media comments among themselves and with Little. When the student adjudicators returned, Little was ready with questions. 

She, rather than her defense, asked the Honor Court if she could raise concerns over her right to a fair trial. The presiding officer, Amelia Ahern, said that the time for rooting out impartiality had come and gone — there was a built in window for any potential conflicts to be identified at the beginning of the hearing, and Ahern said that since there was still a witness on the stand, it wasn't the right time for Little’s concerns. 

Once the hearing convened following the next recess, however, Little’s student-appointed defense, Clare Kurdys, made a stronger push to reconsider the potential compromise of impartiality. The instrument of student judicial governance ensures the accused a “fair, impartial and speedy hearing.”

“We believe it will be impossible for Mr. Pray to be impartial,” Kurdys said. 

This time, Ahern accepted the motion and the hearing went into another recess so the five adjudicators could internally decide the best route forward. Back in the hearing room, Little’s supporters became restless and agitated, not shy in their insults directed at the passing adjudicators. 

“It was a joke to begin with,” said someone in the crowd. “But now it has a double punchline.”

When the hearing resumed, it became difficult to keep order in the crowd. Ahern had to reiterate the policy against outbursts, but it was difficult to reign everyone in as Pray began talking. 

Pray said there was a stark difference between commenting on the monument and commenting on a particular situation, and in his case, it was solely the former. His record of support for the statue is clear, but he affirmed that his outspokenness in no way compromised his ability to be impartial on the case. In fact, he said that he didn't even choose to be there, but accepted an invitation from the Honor Court to serve on this particular trial, as is standard.

“My opinion on the monument is completely irrelevant to an Honor Court hearing,” he said. 

Pray was directly asked by Little about activity on his social media accounts. Content on both his Facebook and Twitter was altered today, and posts were deleted from Facebook. 

Little asked if Pray believed his pro-Silent Sam comments, especially those on Twitter directed toward a person on Little’s witness list, should disqualify him from his role in the case. 

“I think a lot of people get rid of old Facebook posts,” he said. 

Pray was then encouraged to discuss his past history of activism by another adjudicator. When he mentioned his activist role as Chair of the UNC College Republicans, someone from the audience told him to “f*** off,” causing the two police officers in attendance to rise from their seats and stand against the wall for the remainder of the hearing. 

A brief but unproductive dialogue continued between Little and Pray before a scheduling conflict required the decision on Pray’s continued involvement in the case to be postponed until Friday.

There seems to be little agreement concerning the importance of Pray’s previous remarks. 

Pray argues that the case is about the crime rather than the statue. He is considering Little’s actions in a vacuum, vowing that his feelings for the statue will not conflict with his duty to give Little a fair trial. 

Little’s defense, however, has intertwined the statue with the crime. Their central argument is that by painting the statue red, Little wasn't trying to damage it, but instead, contextualize it in a way that’s reconcilable with the University’s big-picture wishes. 

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“The defense that Maya’s Honor Court lawyer is using is similar to the necessity defense,” said Ph.D.student Lindsay Ayling. “Because Pray has said it’s not about Silent Sam, what he’s saying is he’s not going to consider any of the arguments that the defense is making.”