'If they had hung Joe Biden, we would not be here'

A Kentucky grand jury refused Tuesday to indict two men who hung an effigy of Barack Obama from a tree last fall on the University of Kentucky campus, their lawyer said.

The grand jury dismissed charges of second-degree burglary, theft by unlawful taking and disorderly conduct against Hunter Bush, 21, and Joe Fischer, 22, a UK senior, lawyer Fred Peters said Tuesday.

University of Kentucky police found the effigy on the Wednesday before Election Day hanging from a tree on the Lexington, Ky., campus.

UK President Lee Todd immediately called a news conference to denounce the incident, calling the act "deplorable" and "abominal." "We've done many, many things to increase diversity," Todd said. "I know this is not a reflection of this institution."

Bush and Todd were arrested the next day. UK police said the two men told them the act was in response to news reports that an effigy of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin had been hung in California.

Material used to make the effigy, including clothes, was stolen from a fraternity house, leading to the burglary and theft charges. Neither man was a member of the fraternity.

The disorderly conduct charge was for the actual hanging of the effigy. Peters said the charge clearly violated the First Amendment.

Fayette County Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson said the grand jury represented a wide spectrum of the community. The jurors were thoughtful and deliberate.

The case was thoroughly presented to the grand jury, with a UK police detective and several fraternity members testifying, Larson said.

"In this instance they made the decision, I can only assume, that they didn't think there was sufficient evidence to meet the elements of the crimes that were charged," Larson said.

Peters said the men have taken sensitivity training and spoken with black leaders and ministers.

While the incident was in poor taste, authorities nonetheless overreacted by pursuing criminal charges, Peters said.

"If they had hung Joe Biden, we would not be here," Peters said.

On Tuesday, Fischer and Bush expressed remorse and said they were not attempting to make a statement about race. But Bush said he now realizes the effigy was inflammatory.

"It was just a political prank," said Bush, a Republican. "We just weren't thinking of other people's feelings."

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