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Police seek three Georgia freshmen in desecration of Ole Miss statue

The New York Times has the latest from Oxford, Miss.:

The University of Mississippi said Friday that the authorities were seeking interviews with three white students as part of their investigation into the desecration this week of a statue of James Meredith, the first black student to enroll at the university.

In a statement released Friday morning, the university said three 19-year-old freshmen from Georgia were refusing to speak with investigators about the Sunday-morning episode, in which a noose was placed around Mr. Meredith’s bronze neck. A flag with the Confederate battle emblem was left at the statue, which is on the campus here.

The university said that two of the students, who were not identified because of an educational privacy law, had agreed to meet with investigators on Thursday morning, before skipping the session. The university later learned that those students and one other freshman had retained lawyers, who said they would not allow the men to be questioned without arrest warrants.

The Associated Press was more specific on one point: The flag was the 1956 version of the Georgia state banner -- the one that Gov. Roy Barnes brought down in 2001. From the news agency:

Police on Sunday found a noose tied around the neck of the statue, along with an old Georgia flag with a Confederate battle emblem in its design. The design has since been updated to exclude the emblem.

 University spokesman Danny Blanton said Friday the school's findings have been turned over to the district attorney's office. Blanton said the university will also proceed with internal disciplinary action through a judicial panel that consists of both faculty and students.

 District Attorney Ben Creekmore did not immediately respond to a message left by The Associated Press. However, he told WMC-TV in Memphis that criminal charges would be difficult.

 Creekmore said investigators and prosecutors have looked into several misdemeanors as possible charges, but he said criminal charges were unlikely by his office because the statue was not physically damaged, and the suspects did not appear to be trespassing.

 He said federal investigators could opt to bring charges if they saw fit. Creekmore said if new information comes to light, his office could revisit the issue.

 FBI spokeswoman Deborah Madden said the agency is continuing to assist in the investigation.

 The Ole Miss Alumni Association is offering at $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. University Police Department Chief Calvin Sellers said the reward offer gave police some good leads in the case.

 When Meredith tried to enter Ole Miss in fall 1962, Mississippi's governor tried to stop him. That led to violence on the Oxford campus.

 U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy sent 500 U.S. marshals to take control and days later, Meredith was allowed in the school. Though he faced harassment during his time at the school, he graduated with a degree in political science.

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