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Second N.S man accused of cross burning pleads not guilty

Michelle Lyon and her partner Shayne Howe at their home in Hants county, Nova Scotia. The couples car was lit on fire a a neighbuors house over the weekend. They had been victims to a cross burning on their yard in February. (Paul Darrow for the Globe and Mail)

PAUL DARROW/GLOBE AND MAIL

A Nova Scotia man charged after a cross was set on fire earlier this year outside the home of an interracial couple pleaded not guilty Monday to inciting hatred and criminal harassment.

Nathan Rehberg of Avondale entered his pleas as his trial began in provincial Supreme Court in Kentville. Charges of uttering threats and mischief were dropped.

Shayne Howe, who is black, and Michelle Lyon, who is white, say they awoke on Feb. 21 to find a cross burning in front of their home in Poplar Grove.

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Mr. Howe testified Monday that a 2.5-metre cross with a noose attached burned for about 20 minutes as he and his daughter heard racial epithets.

"I was angry and frustrated and scared for my children. I was scared of what would happen next," Mr. Howe said. "It changed me a little bit ... it affects me because my family is scared."

But Mr. Rehberg's defence lawyer questioned Mr. Howe's account, saying it contradicts a statement he gave to police.

Luke Craggs questioned why Mr. Howe had initially told investigators he thought it might be a prank or joke.

Mr. Howe said he may have told officers that but added that he was frustrated and confused at the time.

"I had a lot going through my mind," he testified. "This is not a joke or a prank. These boys don't know me to (make a) joke."

Mr. Craggs also said Mr. Howe originally told police that the cross burned for four to five minutes and that only his daughter heard the racial slurs, contrary to his police statement.

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Last week, Mr. Rehberg's brother Justin was convicted of inciting hatred in the incident.

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