11/02/12 — Effigies at poll prompt inquiry

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Effigies at poll prompt inquiry

By From Staff And Wire Reports
Published in News on November 2, 2012 1:46 PM

State election officials have asked prosecutors to investigate reports of a trailer parked at an early voting site that held effigies of former and current elected officials with nooses around their necks.

State Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Bartlett said a truck with the attached open-air trailer pulled up to the Wayne County library branch that offered early voting Thursday morning. Photographs show eight effigies and signs on the trailer side naming President Barack Obama, Gov. Beverly Perdue and state and local law enforcement officials.

Bartlett said information was forwarded to the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Wayne County district attorney. Bartlett said First Amendment freedoms end if someone is intimidated or gets mad while trying to vote.

The trailer is being pulled by Virginius Phipps, who has been traveling up and down the East Coast with his effigies for several years in protest of what he says was a miscarriage of justice in Duplin County.

Phipps' brother was shot to death in 1995 and the man accused of the shooting was declared not guilty by reason of insanity. Since then, Phipps and other members of his family have claimed that Duplin authorities were involved in a coverup.

An Onslow County jury ruled in the case in July 1996, saying that Jimmy Coley was not in his right mind when the shooting took place. The Coleys and Phipps' argument began over a piece of land. Authorities say Coley had a mental breakdown because the Phipps family had been terrorizing his family.

Since then, Phipps has toured the region with his homemade gallows that carries effigies of people involved in the case, including Duplin County Sheriff Blake Wallace, former Gov. Mike Easley, Perdue, Judge Paul Hardison and other state and local officials.

But he recently added an effigy of President Barack Obama and now has a sign accusing state Rep. Jimmy Dixon of being a member of a vigilante group that was after his family.

Phipps was charged last year with disorderly conduct after trying to park his trailer across from the Wayne County Fairgrounds. The charge was eventually dismissed, with Wayne County Judge Arnold Jones saying it was his constitutional right to freedom of speech to display the trailer.

A woman called The News-Argus on Thursday, saying her 1-year-old son saw the trailer traveling down Berkeley Boulevard and became frightened by the phony corpses, thinking they were real.