Black Lawyer Defends Va. KKK Leader
HILLSVILLE, Va. (AP) _ A Ku Klux Klan leader defended by a black civil liberties lawyer went on trial today before an all-white jury on a charge of violating the state’s cross-burning ban.
Barry Black, of Johnstown, Pa., was charged Aug. 22 with violating a state law against burning a cross in a public place or on the property of another person to intimidate any person or group of people. The felony is punishable by one to five years in prison.
Lawyer David Baugh, who took Black’s case for the American Civil Liberties Union, has said he despises the KKK, but says the group has a right under the First Amendment to express its views, no matter how intolerable they might be.
``If this man can be gagged, then so can the Jewish Defense League, the pro-lifers and the pro-choicers,″ Baugh said at an earlier hearing.
``The question is not whether he did the act; the question is whether it was a crime,″ Baugh told prospective jurors today.
Lawyers for the state argued the law is constitutional because it targets intimidation, not free expression of ideas. The judge agreed, refusing in January to dismiss the charge.
Black, an imperial wizard with the International Keystone Knights of the Klan, is accused of leading a Klan rally at which 18 robed and hooded people held torches as they stood around a 25-foot flaming cross. The gathering was on private property with the owner’s consent.
The all-white jury was seated after about 90 minutes of selection. Blacks make up less than 1 percent of the 26,000 residents of Carroll County in the mountains of southwestern Virginia.
Several potential jurors said they were embarrassed by the cross-burning.