(Reuters) - A former University of Mississippi student pleaded guilty on Thursday to a federal civil rights charge, admitting his role in the draping of a noose and Confederate flag on a statue of the school’s first black student, according to court documents and attorneys.
Graeme Phillip Harris, who is white, faces up to a year in prison and a possible $100,000 fine for the misdemeanor charge that he knowingly and willfully intimidated and interfered with African-American students and staff because of their race and color.
Harris, who was 19 at the time of the offense, originally pleaded not guilty to the charges but agreed to change his plea in a deal with prosecutors, who are dropping a felony charge of conspiracy to violate civil rights.
“He wants to admit his involvement in what was a considerably ill-conceived, ill-advised, thoughtless and insensitive drunken act,” said his attorney, David Hill.
The judge is expected to sentence Graeme this summer.
In the incident on Feb. 16, 2014, Harris and two others hung the noose and the flag on the statue of James Meredith, who braved white segregationist mobs in 1962 to integrate the school in Oxford, Mississippi, officials said.
Harris admits that the rope and the flag were his, and he draped the flag on to the statue but not the rope, Hill said.
Prosecutors said in court filings the incident was Harris’ idea, and that one of the other participants recalled him using racial slurs and saying: “It’s James Meredith. People will go crazy.”
The Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity expelled the men and later closed its chapter there. Harris withdrew from the university that spring.
U.S. Attorney Felicia Adams said in a statement that attempts to categorize Harris’ conduct “as a mere college prank only serve as a hollow denial of our collective history and a repudiation of the legacy of those who fought to obtain and preserve our historic civil rights.”
The case is still under investigation. No other charges have been filed.
The University of Mississippi campus was the scene of riots in 1962, when two men died and dozens of people were wounded as federal officials escorted Meredith to campus.
Reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin, Texas; Editing by Eric Beech