Roanoke man who toppled Lee spire pleads no contest to reduced charge | Crime News | #College. | #Students

A 72-year-old man who toppled Roanoke’s Robert E. Lee memorial pillar last year amid renewed attention to the statue and its Confederate symbolism pleaded no contest Monday to a reduced charge and agreed to pay a fine.

William Clay Foreman, of Roanoke, said he yanked down the 10-foot-tall granite spire with a chain and a rented truck in order to avoid seeing the city involved in chaotic clashes that unfolded elsewhere in the nation after George Floyd died in police custody.

Roanoke was on track already to remove the relatively low-profile obelisk that sat in a downtown pocket park where military veterans of other wars are honored. But city leaders needed to follow a multi-part public process outlined by state law, and were still about two months away from a resolution when Foreman acted on the night of July 22, 2020.

Foreman, who was initially charged with felony property damage, said he had feared that tensions would boil over as the process played out and that Roanoke would become another civil strife flashpoint.

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Nightly demonstrations were happening in Richmond at the time, and in Portsmouth a man was seriously injured when he was struck by a Confederate statue that was being pulled down by protestors.

“I didn’t want us to have to go through that,” Foreman told a police officer in a recorded conversation played during earlier court hearings.

Foreman, a Navy veteran who’s called Roanoke home since childhood, always acknowledged what he had done. His first attempt at upending the spire was intercepted by a passing police officer, who put a halt to it. However, Foreman returned another day and was able to tip it over without being seen.

The circa-1960 spire was broken and discovered later on the ground in three pieces. The city never reinstalled it and has donated it to Evergreen Burial Park, where Confederate soldiers are interred, and to the Historical Society of Western Virginia.

On Monday, Foreman appeared in court and entered a plea agreement that reduced the charge against him to misdemeanor property damage.

He agreed to pay $482.82 in restitution to the city, an updated figure that was below earlier estimates, as well as a fine of $500 plus court costs.

After the hearing, Foreman made only a brief statement, offering an emotional expression of gratitude for the support of people like his attorney, John Fishwick, and his church pastor, who attended the hearing with him.

Fishwick called the agreement a fair and just resolution. “Billy is glad to get this behind him and move on,” he said.

The defense had been advocating a reduction to a misdemeanor, with full restitution to the city, since last winter.

In crafting Monday’s agreement, which was accepted by Judge Chris Clemens, prosecutors said they surveyed other local vandalism cases to ensure there was consistency and parity in their proposal.

The offer extended to Foreman is similar to that granted to a group of college students who stole a Virginia Tech Hokie Bird statue from outside the Hotel Roanoke in 2019.

Those students pleaded to a misdemeanor with a restitution requirement and 50 hours of community service apiece. Community service wasn’t a viable option for Foreman, given his health, so officials instead proposed a fine using a formula of $10 per hour for 50 hours of service that would be waived.

The city, in addition to removing the Lee monument permanently, also has since renamed the location where it stood, which was formerly dubbed Lee Plaza in memory of the Confederate general.

The site’s new name, which was approved last summer, now cites Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman who was born in Roanoke and become the source of an immortal human cell line that has been crucial to major medical advances.

Lacks was never told that her biopsied cells were cultured for research, nor was she compensated for their use.

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