Michael Carothers, known for distributing white nationalist literature on vehicles downtown, claimed Tuesday as he pleaded guilty in Superior Court to using pepper spray on a black man last December that the U.S. court system no longer observes the Constitution.
Carothers, also known as Michael David Weaver, faced one to 20 years for aggravated assault if convicted. Instead, prosecutors agreed to a one-year prison sentence, followed by nine years’ probation, and banishment from the six-county Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit during his probation if he agreed to plea guilty.
Preparing for trial Tuesday morning, the 31-year-old Carothers opted to plead after Judge Bobby Peters ruled that jurors would hear about a 1999 incident in which Carothers claimed to be a skinhead, used a racial slur and threatened three times to kill a 15-year-old girl at Jordan High School.
Carothers wore a black suit, his father standing behind him, as he explained to Peters why he chose to plead guilty.
“The First Amendment is dead in America,” he said. “The Constitution doesn’t apply anymore.”
Robin King, Carothers’ attorney, then put her hand on his shoulder as she quietly explained that they’d go to trial if he wished. Moments later, he again faced the judge and continued with the guilty plea.
Additionally, Peters banished Carothers from the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, which includes Muscogee County, as well as Harris, Chattahoochee, Taylor, Talbot and Marion counties. Carothers, who intends to live in Alabama after his release, asked if he could visit Columbus for holidays. Peters denied the request.
“You say you want to live in Alabama,” Peters added. “We’re going to allow you that privilege. We don’t want you here, either.”
During the guilty plea, Carothers admitted to driving a car alongside a 27-year-old black man on Rose Hill Street around 6 p.m. Dec. 4. Carothers sprayed the man in the face and was still in the area when the victim returned with police about an hour later.
“I’ve known him for years,” testified Detective Cathy Bush, a Columbus police officer who responded to the 1999 Jordan High incident. “I don’t know why he does the things that he does.
“He’s made remarks to me about my children. He actually approached my daughter years ago. In the past, they have come to my residence and put racist literature on my car.”
Carothers’ father, David Carothers, had been removed from the courtroom when Bush made those comments. A deputy had the older Carothers leave after he made a hand motion.
“Good luck, America,” David Carothers said outside the courtroom. “I don’t think we have long anyway.”
The trial’s fate hinged on Peters’ decision about how much, if any, of Carothers’ history jurors would hear.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Craig wanted the panel to hear about several instances, some more than a decade old, in which Carothers either made comments about race or used racial slurs.
Michael Carothers’ defense team, which included a black attorney, argued the history was legally too prejudicial.
At one point, King argued why a jury shouldn’t see emails that Carothers sent to Temple Israel Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, a nationally known Jewish leader, that blamed Jews for most of the country’s problems.
“The state wants to put a hood and a burning cross over here at the defense table,” King said. “I understand their purpose.
“It may be offensive,” King added about the emails. “Certainly it is offensive to the rabbi. Mr. Craig finds it offensive. The First Amendment was created to protect offensive activity. And, of course, the jury would find it offensive.”
Craig, however, argued that Michael Carothers’ history supplied a motive and intent for him to take a can of pepper spray and use it on a black man.
“The First Amendment doesn’t protect pepper spraying someone based on their race,” Craig said. “It’s anybody different from him, judge. He finally acted out.”
As part of the plea deal, Peters ordered Michael Carothers to stay away from all of his victims, including a black police officer Craig said Carothers cursed at and the female Jordan High student who was 15 years old in 1999.
The judge also ordered Carothers to stay away from Bush, Craig and their families.