Lawyer: 2 arrested had no role in Confederate chair theft

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A lawyer for of the two people arrested on charges of possessing a stolen Confederate monument that was taken from an Alabama cemetery said the pair had nothing to do with the theft of the artifact, calling it a misunderstanding.

The chair-shaped monument was recovered in New Orleans after it was r emoved from a cemetery in Selma, Alabama. Someone later sent an email signed “White Lies Matter” claiming responsibility, and then sent fake photos pretending the chair had been turned into a toilet.

New Orleans police said last week that Jason Warnick and Kathryn Diionno were arrested on charges of having stolen property in their possession. Authorities said they are also searching for another man in connection with the case.

“This is just a big mistake. It really is,” said attorney Michael Kennedy, who represents Warnick. “They had no role in stealing the chair. They have no ties to White Lies Matter.”

The strange saga began March 20 when a representative of the United Daughters of the Confederacy reported to police that the “Jefferson Davis Memorial Chair” had gone missing from the Alabama cemetery. The chair has no direct connection to Davis, the president of the Confederacy, but it is a monument to him that sits with other Confederate monuments in a private section of the cemetery.

Someone sent an email signed “White Lies Matter” to news outlets earlier claiming responsibility and saying the chair would be returned only if the United Daughters of the Confederacy agreed to display a banner at their Virginia headquarters bearing a quote from a Black Liberation Army activist. “Jefferson Davis doesn’t need it anymore. He’s long dead,” the email read. The United Daughters of the Confederacy local representative told police for the initial theft report that the chair was worth $500,000 although it was not known how the value was determined.

A later email included photos of someone wearing Confederate garb posing on a chair, that looked like the missing one, with a hole cut out. And then finally an email said the chair was fake and the real chair was being returned unscathed.

The Times-Picayune / The New Orleans Advocate reported that investigators received a tip that the monument was being held inside a storage room at a tattoo shop. Police obtained a search warrant and did not find it. But surveillance video showed a masked woman with a unique tattoo on her right forearm helping five people take the hulking monument out of the shop and load it into the back of a U-Haul van, cops said. Police said they determined Diionno has the same tattoo — of a candlestick — on her right forearm.

Michael Jackson, the district attorney in Selma, said he anticipates that Warnick and Diionno will face additional charges in the chair’s theft. Kennedy said that would be a mistake because the two had nothing to do with the theft.

“If that is the way they are going, they are very off base,” Kennedy said.

A person responding from the “White Lies Matter” address last week said he, or she, couldn’t disclose why the chair was taken to New Orleans but said police were told they could recover it at a certain intersection. The person wrote that those involved in the theft wanted to make a point about residual racism and used what the writer called a bit of “comedy” to garner attention.

“The chair is back now. But the racial caste system is also alive and thriving,” the person wrote.

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Chandler reported from Montgomery, Alabama.

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