SELMA, Ala. (AP) — A Confederate monument that was stolen and became the object of an odd ransom scheme is back in an Alabama cemetery where it stood for nearly 130 years — now glued to the ground for good measure — but who took the chair remains in dispute.
A Louisiana man charged in the odd disappearance of the chair-shaped monument surrendered to authorities Wednesday in what his lawyer called his first trip to the city where the alleged theft occurred.
Free on $30,000 bail after spending a couple hours in jail, Jason Warnick stood silently at a news conference as his attorney, Michael Kennedy, said the man was innocent of taking the chair, a monument to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
“My client did not commit any theft,” Kennedy said.
District Attorney Michael Jackson said authorities believe Warnick or someone he knows found out about the chair during an annual tour of old homes held in Selma. Despite the defense denials, investigators say they have a photograph of Warnick with the chair.
“He did it,” Jackson said.
Placed at Live Oak Cemetery in 1893 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the chair vanished from its base earlier this year in Selma, a city widely known as the site of civil rights protests in the 1960s.
An email purporting to be from a group called White Lies Matter claimed responsibility and said the chair would be returned only if the United Daughters of the Confederacy agreed to display a banner at its Virginia headquarters bearing a quote from a Black Liberation Army activist. The email also included images of a fake chair with a hole cut in the seat like a toilet and a man dressed in Confederate garb.
Authorities who arrested Warnick said the real chair was spotted at his tattoo parlor in New Orleans, where he is charged with receiving stolen property.
Warnick was accompanied at the news conference by girlfriend Kathryn Diionno, who also is charged with receiving stolen property. She could face additional charges in Alabama, authorities have said.
The chair, which the United Daughters of the Confederacy has valued at $500,000, has been returned to the cemetery and sits in its original location. A thick adhesive now holds its four legs to its brick base.
Warnick has no ties to White Lies Matter or any other activist group, Kennedy said. Longtime Selma activists Hank Sanders, a former Alabama state senator, and wife Faya Toure said the arrests of Warnick, Diionno and a third person highlight the racial inequality of Selma. In contrast to their diligent efforts to find the Confederate monument’s thief, prosecutors often fail to punish crimes against Black people, they said.
Toure asked Jackson, who is Black, to dismiss all charges in the monument case since the chair “represents and honors a violent terrorist that used his power to maintain the most dehumanizing slavery in human history.”
The prosecutor said his office and the defense were nowhere close to a plea deal.
“It could go to trial,” Jackson said.