A man who pleaded guilty to committing a hate crime by hanging a noose outside a middle school has delivered a public apology, saying he didn't mean to scare or discriminate against anyone because of their race.
Nineteen-year-old Conner Prout stood before roughly 60 people at a meeting of the Caucus of African-American Leaders on Tuesday and apologized for his role in a stunt that sent Crofton Middle School students running to the guidance counselor's office in tears, the Capital reports .
"I would like to publicly apologize to all those that were offended by the noose that we hung back in May," Prout said.
Prout was one of two men charged; His co-defendant, John Havermann, is scheduled to go to trial on a hate crime charge on Oct. 19.
This apology was required as part of a plea agreement in which Prout was sentenced to 18 months of probation and 120 hours of community service, which includes working with civil rights organizations to learn the history of the noose.
It was Prout and his father who came up with the idea of reaching out to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People after he was charged, Prout's attorney, Richard Trunnell, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
"Conner has always expressed that the noose was not racial, but by the time the police showed up he was very cooperative and understood what he'd done," Trunnell said. He said he initially counseled Prout not to attend the public meeting, but the young man insisted. "Conner said, 'I want to do this.' He was adamant."
Carl Snowden, the convener of the caucus, said a public apology is a crucial step in raising awareness and building understanding in society, which is becoming more and more divisive.
"There's a mythology that the problem is with an older generation, racists of a bygone era. But in Virginia, the vast majority of the Klansmen were young people," Snowden observed.
"In South Carolina, Dylann Roof was 21 years old. Because of the internet and the sophistication of white supremacist groups, the danger lies with the youth. We think it's important for Conner to come forward to express his apology, but also to talk about what he'll do to ensure that other people don't go down this path."
Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Wes Adams said requiring strong community service, supervised by the NAACP, as well as a public apology makes sense, given the impact of the crime on the community.
"The nature of what Mr. Prout pled guilty to is divisive on its face, and my responsibility to my community is to make sure that there's a sentence that has accountability, has some portion of rehabilitation and, in this particular instance, can maybe repair something that was fractured," Adams said. "We tried to fashion a sentence that would approach all three."
Information from: The Capital, http://www.capitalgazette.com/