UPDATE: Michael Carothers pleaded guilty today to aggravated assault and was sentenced to one year in prison, followed by nine years probation. He was also banished until his probation ends from all six counties in the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, which includes the city of Columbus.
The 31-year-old Carothers chose to plead guilty after Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters ruled that jurors would be allowed to hear about a 1999 incident at Jordan High School involving Carothers. Prosecutors said Carothers hurled a racial epithet at a group of students and threatened three times to kill a 15-year-old girl.
"The First Amendment in America is dead," Carothers said, explaining why he chose to plead guilty. "The Constitution doesn't apply anymore."
Prosecutors alleged that Carothers, also known as Michael David Weaver, was motivated by hate when in December he used pepper spray on a black man. That incident led to a misdemeanor charge which prosecutors later upgraded to aggravated assault -- a charge that carries one to 20 years in prison.
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A white man accused of using pepper spray on a black man last December was described Monday by prosecutors as being motivated by hate against everyone not like him.
Prosecutors want jurors in the aggravated assault case of Michael Carothers to hear about several incidents, some dating back more than a decade, when deciding his fate this week. In each instance, the 31-year-old Carothers is accused of making comments about race or using racial epithets. Those prior acts show a motive for Carothers to allegedly use pepper spray on a 26-year-old man, prosecutors argued.
Defense attorneys, however, told Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters that Carothers’ provocative views would prejudice a jury, and that the prior acts have nothing to do with the aggravated assault charge.
“He hates black people. He hates Jewish people,” said Assistant District Attorney Michael Craig about Carothers. “God knows how many other people he hates.”
Peters declined Monday to decide whether jurors will hear Carothers’ history. A ruling is expected today.
Carothers, also known as Michael David Weaver, could make any ruling moot if he chooses to plead guilty. Prosecutors have offered a four-year prison sentence, followed by six years’ probation, if he admits to aggravated assault.
Carothers is accused of approaching a man on Rose Hill Street around 6 p.m. Dec. 4. Police say Carothers slowly pulled up alongside the man in a car, got out and sprayed the other man with pepper spray. He was arrested about an hour later on a misdemeanor charge that was later upgraded to a felony.
Craig wants jurors on that case to hear about Carothers’ 1999 arrest near Jordan High School, in addition to a number of other incidents. In the school case, Craig said Carothers heard a group of teens on the school’s track talking, believing they were speaking about him.
“He takes off, he begins to hurl out threats -- threats directed at a 15-year-old high school freshman,” Craig added.
The prosecutor said Carothers waved hate literature he was holding and asked if the group knew he was a skinhead. He also threatened three times to kill a girl.
When police arrived, Carothers resisted and cursed as he called officers Russians and communists, Craig said.
Craig also wants jurors to read from a letter Carothers wrote a former girlfriend in which he quotes the band “Blue Eyed Devils.”
“‘Hate is what drives me, and I feel full of animosity,’” Craig read. “‘Hate is all I need to survive.’”
More recently, Craig pointed to a number of emails he said Carothers sent Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, a nationally recognized Jewish leader, after speaking with him at a coffee shop in 2010. Craig said Carothers drew Salkin’s attention because of an Aryan Nation T-shirt Carothers wore.
In the emails, Craig said Carothers pointed out that he shared a birthday with Adolf Hitler and blamed Jews for many of the nation’s problems.
“It sounds like you’re making a great case to prove this man’s a racist,” Peters said, adding he’s not sure the pepper spray incident was enough to merit an aggravated assault charge.
Responding to Craig’s arguments, defense attorney Robin King said no email her client sent threatens violence.
“What it does do is engage the rabbi in a provocative discussion,” King added. “It is provocative, and it is prejudicial and it has nothing to do with (the man) getting pepper sprayed.”
As for the letter Carothers wrote to a past girlfriend, King dismissed it as a love note sent by a 19-year-old who’d been in jail four months on the Jordan High accusations. She pointed out that Craig failed to mention Carothers talking about eating pizza and how attractive his old flame was.
“What kind of motion is that other than to malign his character in front of the media and the jury?” King asked. “This is the evidence the state intends to use to malign my client.”