Two members of the Ku Klux Klan were acquitted by an all-white jury here today of participating in an incident in which four black women were wounded by a shotgun.
A third Klansman, Marshall Thrash, was given a 20-month prison sentence and fined $225 for doing the shooting.
Harry Hill, spokesman for a local black organization, called the verdict "a joke," adding that the state had done all it could "to make fun of us."
On April 19, four women were hit with shotgun pellets fired from a moving car as they walked from a tavern in a predominantly black neighborhood. They have recovered.
Leroy Phillips, lawyer for Thrash, told jurors Monday it would be an "injustice" to decide the defendants" guilt or innocence with an eye to the verdict's effect on racial relations in Chattanooga, which is about 40 percent black.
Assistant prosecutor Stan Lanzo, who also urged jurors not to consider community reaction to the verdict, said they should sentence the defendants as a deterrent.
"We aren't worried about the black community's reaction . . . But we are worried about the people of a like kind and their reaction to it," he said.
On trial with Thrash, 30, were William Church, 23, self-declared imperial wizard of the Justice Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and Larry Payne, 26. Thrash and Payne are members of Church's group.
Thrash fired the shots from the window of a car Church was driving, according to testimony. Payne rode in the back seat, testimony indicated.
Thrash testified he fired the shots to draw attention to wooden crosses set afire a few blocks away.
The men had cut trees from a mountain to be made into crosses and burned in the black community on the east side of town, then drove to Big Ninth," the main thoroughfare of Chattanooga's black section. There, Thrash fired indiscriminately into a crowd, according to testimony.
The women were aged 50 to 74.
Dr. Douglas Farr, of Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute here, performed a court-ordered mental examination and testified that Thrash suffered from mental illness because of alcoholism but could tell right from wrong at the time of the shootings.
Witnesses testified Church and Payne were drinking before the shootings.