Update on Trump billboard vandalism case

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (News Release) — Over the last month the District Attorney’s Office has received hundreds of calls and emails from citizens interested in the Injury to Personal Property and Injury to Real Property charges against Marion Timothy Joyner, Nicole Nelson (A.K.A. Lily Nicole), and Joshua Zieseniss. Some callers have asked for the cases to be dismissed, while others have supported prosecution to the fullest extent under the law. Prosecutors are ethically barred from publicly discussing the facts of a pending case, so it is not until cases are resolved that we can address constituent concerns.

The role of the District Attorney’s Office is to do justice, not to convict at all costs. Under our Constitution, we must uphold the rights of individuals to peacefully assemble. We must also uphold the rights of property owners. When there is a collision of these rights and the behavior of one party becomes criminal, we must weigh if prosecution is warranted. Freedom of expression is fundamental, but so is the notion that actions have consequences.

At this time last year our nation was in a level of deep pain as a result of racially-charged events across the country. Our community was having the same conversation as other cities. Throughout that time, members of law enforcement exercised great restraint in lodging criminal charges against persons venting their frustration at officers and other community members. When protest activity turned to property destruction, criminal charges were filed by law enforcement. These misdemeanors were set in New Hanover county District Court, which specifically handles cases at this level.

Joyner was charged with vandalism of a fence for events caught on city cameras on July 15, 2020 in front of City Hall. Joyner invoked his right to trial earlier today. After a bench trial, the Honorable Russell Davis found Joyner not guilty.

The Wilmington Police Department charged Joyner, Nelson, and Zieseniss with the destruction of a billboard in downtown Wilmington on October 8 and 9, 2020. Although the billboard had recently been leased by the New Hanover County Republican Party, it had physically been in place for some time. Nelson was also charged for vandalism of parking signs belonging to the City of Wilmington in the Thalian Hall parking lot on October 22, 2020.

While doing justice remains the aim of this office, it is also important that we exercise mercy when appropriate. Consistent with others charged with similar offenses, District Court prosecutors attempted to resolve Statement regarding the resolution of charges against Nicole Nelson pg. 2 these cases prior to trial. Nelson accepted an agreement of a deferred prosecution. The deferred prosecution places conditions on a defendant for a period of time; if the terms of these conditions are met, the District Attorney’s Office dismisses the cases. Nelson’s agreement requires: 12 hours of community service, repay restitution to the City of Wilmington ($170.75) and the New Hanover County Republican Party ($1,175), do not threaten/assault/harass any prosecuting witnesses, and do not acquire any new charges in the next 12 months. As long as she adheres to these conditions, her charges arising from both incidents will be dismissed. Furthermore, this dismissal will result in the removal of the charges from her record after a period of time. This provision is part of the Second Chances Act, which my office supported.

This afternoon, both Joyner and Zieseniss were joined for trial for the October 8 and 9, 2020 destruction of the billboard. The State called five witnesses to testify. The court has adjourned for today and will resume at a date to be determined. The District Attorney’s Office cannot offer further comments on this pending matter.

The District Attorney’s Office is firmly committed to fighting for racial equity and supports much-needed reform to the Criminal Justice System. We have worked tirelessly on legislative changes like Raise the Age and passage of the Second Chances Act and are spearheading the effort to make the courts more trauma informed. We are also proud founding members of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration. Locally, we have developed courses like the History of Wilmington in Black and White with Professor Tim Tyson and Mary Williams to broaden our community’s understanding of the rich texture of this place we all call home. These efforts will

The District Attorney’s Office will always support criminal justice reform and peaceful protest, but will prosecute acts of violence and vandalism when they occur. Property destruction does more to divide than unite us as a community and does nothing to advance us to a place of healing. Today, as every day, we sought to resolve these cases by balancing justice and mercy in a manner that was fair for all involved parties.

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