Judge hears ar­gu­ment on por­trait re­moval in Louisa

De­fense at­tor­ney says Lee paint­ing may cause prej­u­dice

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - OP-ED - BY FRANK GREEN fgreen@times­dis­patch.com (804) 649-6340

LOUISA — A lawyer for an African-Amer­i­can man charged with cap­i­tal mur­der in Louisa County asked the judge Thurs­day to have a large por­trait of Robert E. Lee re­moved from the court­room prior to trial.

“The Civil War was re­ally fought pri­mar­ily over slav­ery and the ra­cial supremacy of whites,” Dou­glas Ram­seur, told Louisa County Cir­cuit Judge Tim- othy K. San­ner.

“They painted him in his uni­form to send a mes­sage ... to ven­er­ate the [Lost] Cause,” the lawyer added.

Ram­seur is rep­re­sent­ing Dar­cel Nathaniel Mur­phy, who is fac­ing a po­ten­tial death sen­tence in the March 2016 slay­ing of Kevin Robinson, 43, who is also black.

The trial is sched­uled to be­gin May 7. A mo­tion filed last month by his lawyers asks that the trial not take place in the county’s Cir­cuit Court court­room un­less the Lee por­trait and other Con­fed­er­ate mem­o­ra­bilia are re­moved.

Louisa Com­mon­wealth’s At­tor­ney Rusty E. McGuire said his of­fice was not tak­ing a po­si­tion in the mat­ter.

On Thurs­day, San­ner de­clined to hear from wit­nesses called by Ram­seur, in­stead ask­ing that the wit­nesses of­fer af­fi­davits to be sent to his of­fice by Dec. 10. San­ner said it was a com­plex is­sue and that he will is­sue a writ­ten opin­ion af­ter care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion.

Robinson’s sis­ter Donna Wash­ing­ton, also African-Amer­i­can, told the Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch last month that she op­poses the re­quest. She said that there is no ra­cial is­sue in­volved and that she be­lieves the re­quest is an at­tempt to bias po­ten­tial ju­rors.

Wash­ing­ton sat through Thurs­day’s hear­ing on the back row of spec­ta­tor seat­ing, not far from the Lee por­trait.

Lee’s is the most prom­i­nent por­trait in­side the county’s only Cir­cuit Court court­room. The por­trait faces di­rectly to­ward the judge and can clearly be seen by ju­rors.

Although he didn’t hear from wit­nesses, be­cause McGuire was not go­ing to cross-ex­am­ine them, the judge did al­low Ram­seur to ar­gue his case for re­moval of the Con­fed­er­ate ma­te­rial.

Ram­seur said he was not sug­gest­ing that the judge had any ra­cial bias. How­ever, he said the Lee por­trait is sym­bolic to dif­fer­ent peo­ple for dif­fer­ent rea­sons.

“Th­ese are not just benign relics of the past,” he said. “Un­de­ni­ably, many peo­ple see that por­trait as a sym­bol of un­equal pro­tec­tion un­der the law.

“Mr. Mur­phy comes into this court­room ... hop­ing to re­ceive equal pro­tec­tion un­der the law,” said Ram­seur, but the de­fen­dant’s be­lief, and those of oth­ers, is shaken when he sees the por­trait.

The de­fense lawyer added: “There is no le­git­i­mate need for the Robert E. Lee por­trait to be here. ... Is it a mu­seum, or is it a court of law?”

He said the risk of the por­trait hav­ing a prej­u­di­cial ef­fect out­weighed any pos­si­ble rea­son for it to be in the court­room.

“Due process re­quires not just fair­ness, but the ap­pear­ance of fair­ness,” he said.

De­fense at­tor­neys for Dar­cel Nathaniel Mur­phy ar­gue that hav­ing a por­trait of Robert E. Lee in the court­room (as seen in a court fil­ing) vi­o­lates his con­sti­tu­tional rights. He is charged with cap­i­tal mur­der.

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