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4 suspects in the toppling of Silent Sam had their trials yesterday. What happened?

Silent Sam Trial
(From left) Shawn Birchfield-Fin, Jonathan Fuller and Lauren Aucoin watch the replay of news footage from the toppling of Silent Sam during their trial at the Orange County Courthouse in Hillsborough, N.C. on Thursday, April 25 2019.

On Thursday, the Orange County District Court came to a legal decision on the four suspects who were accused of toppling Silent Sam. 

Earlier in the day, one of the defendants, Shawn Thomas Birchfield-Finn, was stopped upon entering the courthouse when passing through the security detectors. According to a press release by Alicia Stemper, director of public information and special services at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, it was discovered that he was carrying a 3 ½ inch Buck pocket knife. 

Trials regarding anti-Silent Sam protesters have been ongoing throughout the past couple of months. In December 2018, there were 20 cases continuing against people involved in the protest. Previously, the trials were met with demonstrations outside the Orange County Courthouse.  

Birchfield-Finn was released on a written promise after being presented before the magistrate, his court date for the new charge was set to May 2. 

Much of the trial was focused on the footage of a WRAL report, which the district attorney used as evidence to show that the four defendants had been involved. The judge was ultimately unable to interpret much from the video, due to its low resolution. The attorney hired by the defendant also pointed out that in addition to the lack of clarity in video quality, the footage did not show Silent Sam being brought down.

The defendants were all represented by Scott Holmes, who is also a professor at North Carolina Central University School of Law.

Holmes objected when the prosecution displayed the video to the judge and attempted to identify the defendants in the video. Ultimately, a lack of clear identification led the judge to acquit two of the defendants, Lauren Aucoin and Jonathan Fuller. The two other defendants, Raul Jimenez and Shawn Thomas Birchfield-Finn, were charged with 24 hours in jail and 18 months on probation. They were also charged with paying $500 in fines and completing 250 hours of community service. 

Jimenez was originally charged with public disturbance and defacing, writing on, marking or injuring a public statue or monument. Birchfield-Finn faced similar charges, as well as the upcoming charges for bringing a knife into the courthouse.