A Maryland Ku Klux Klan leader who fired a gun during the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, has pleaded no contest to the charge.
A judge in Charlottesville Circuit Court on Wednesday set an August 21 sentencing for 53-year-old Richard Wilson Preston. The plea entered Tuesday means Preston acknowledged that enough evidence existed to convict him, but he doesn’t admit to committing a crime.
Preston stood accused of firing a shot that didn’t hit anyone during the rally. He fired the shot within 1,000 feet of a school, a felony in Virginia that could carry a sentence of up to ten years. Preston has said he was protecting people against someone with a flame thrower and planned to claim self-defense if the case went to trial.
Preston, a Baltimore, Maryland resident, is the Imperial Wizard of the Confederate White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
On a video filmed by the ACLU of Virginia, Preston is seen firing a pistol at counterprotesters.
In the video, Preston is seen drawing his pistol and shouting, “Hey, nigger,” then walking toward the crowd, lowering his gun toward the ground and firing before walking away. There were no reports of injuries from the gunshot.
Charlottesville’s top prosecutor, Joseph D. Platania, told a judge that a witness saw Preston point his gun toward the ground beside 24-year-old Corey A. Long at a 45-degree angle and then heard a gunshot.
The witness, Platania told the court, would have testified at trial that the flames from Long’s aerosol can were not close to anyone, the Baltimore Sun reported.
Platania also said prosecutors did not believe anything about the incident would “justify the discharge of a firearm in self-defense.”
Long was wielding an aerosol can shooting out large flames when Preston fired at him. Long faces charges, including misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct. He is scheduled for a June court hearing.
Preston’s plea is the latest in a string of court cases stemming from the August 2017 rally.
The racist gathering — the day after a fiery-torch, Ku Klux Klan-style march through the University of Virginia campus — turned deadly when another racist demonstrator drove his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
Jacob Scott Goodwin, a 23-year-old white supremacist who wore pins celebrating Adolf Hitler and the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker Party during the rally, was found guilty earlier this month of assaulting a black man.
Goodwin, of Ward, Arkansas, was convicted by a jury in Charlottesville of “malicious wounding,” a felony related to the August 12 attack that severely injured DeAndre Harris. Later the same week, 34-year-old Alex Michael Ramos was also found guilty of felony malicious wounding for his role in the garage beating.
And James Alex Fields Jr., a young neo-Nazi, faces first-degree murder charges after being accused of intentionally ramming his car into a crowd at the rally, killing Heyer.