Ex-Miss. sheriff’s deputy charged in ’64 deaths
Ex-Miss. sheriff’s deputy charged in ’64 deaths
James Seale suspected of killing black teenagers; indictment on Thursday
Mississippi State Highway Patrol
This 1964 Mississippi State Highway Patrol photo shows James Ford Seale after his arrest in Mississippi for the killings of two young black men. Seale, a former Mississippi sheriff's deputy, was arrested again in tyhe case on Wednesday.
• Cold case solved?
Jan. 24: more than 40 years after the murder of two black college students, James Seale — who's 71 and who went on to become a sheriff's deputy — has been indicted for the crime by a federal grand jury.
Updated: 6:22 p.m. CT Jan 24, 2007
JACKSON, Miss. - A white former sheriff’s deputy who was once thought to be dead was arrested on federal charges Wednesday in one of the last major unsolved crimes of the civil rights era — the 1964 killings of two black men who were beaten and dumped alive into the Mississippi River.
The break in the 43-year-old case was largely the result of the dogged efforts of the older brother of one of the victims, who vowed to bring the killers to justice.
James Ford Seale, a 71-year-old reputed Ku Klux Klansman from the town of Roxie, was charged with kidnapping hitchhikers Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, both 19.
The victims’ weighted, badly decomposed bodies were found by chance two months later in July 1964, during the search for three civil rights workers whose disappearance and deaths in Philadelphia, Miss., got far more attention from the media and the FBI.
Seale is expected to be arraigned on Thursday in Jackson.
A second man long suspected in the attack, church deacon and reputed KKK member Charles Marcus Edwards, now 72, was not charged. There was no immediate explanation from federal prosecutors. Nor did they say why Seale was not charged with murder.
Closing books on the past
The arrest marked the latest attempt by prosecutors in the South to close the books on crimes from the civil rights era that went unpunished.
In recent years, authorities in Mississippi and Alabama have won convictions in the 1963 assassination of NAACP activist Medgar Evers; the 1963 Birmingham, Ala., church bombing that killed four black girls; and the 1964 Philadelphia, Miss., slayings.
“I’ve been crying. First time I’ve cried in about 50 years,” Moore’s 63-year-old brother, Thomas, said after the arrest. “It’s not going to bring his life back. But some way or another, I think he would be satisfied.”
David Ridgen / AP
This July 2005 photo, provided by filmmaker David Ridgen, shows Thomas Moore at his home in Colorado, holding a photograph of himself, right, and his younger brother Charles.
Dee’s sister, Thelma Collins, told The Associated Press through grateful sobs: “I never thought I would live to see it, no sir, I never did. I always prayed that justice would be done — somehow, some way.”
Seale and Edwards are suspected of kidnapping the two victims in a Klan crackdown prompted by rumors that Black Muslims were planning an armed “insurrection” in rural Franklin County. Seale and Edwards were arrested at the time.
But, consumed by the search for the three missing civil rights workers, the FBI turned the case over to local authorities. And a justice of the peace promptly threw out all charges against Seale and Edwards.
You must give some time to your fellow men. Even if it's a little thing, do something for others - something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it.
-Albert Schweitzer (1875 - 1965)
Southern Man: Klan-Busting Journalist Jerry Mitchell
Southern Man: Klan-Busting Journalist Jerry Mitchell
On Saturday, May 2, 1964, two white men in a Volkswagen pulled up to an ice cream stand on U.S. 84, just west of Meadville, Mississippi. Hitchhiking there on the highway were two 19-year-old blacks, Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee. Both lived in the area.
"You boys want a ride?" asked one of the men.
The youths declined, suspecting — correctly — that the whites were in the Ku Klux Klan.
"Dammit, you nigger, get in this car!" shouted one of the Klansmen. "I'm an Internal Revenue Agent and I want to talk to you!"
The Klansmen drove Moore and Dee into the nearby Homochitta National Forest, where they were joined by three or four other members of the White Knights. In one of their more paranoid conspiracy theories, the Klansmen believed that the former college students were part of a rumored Black Muslim plot to smuggle guns into the area to stage an uprising. They tied Moore and Dee to a tree and beat them unconscious with bean sticks. Then they dumped them into the back of a pick up truck, drove them into Louisiana, about 75 miles away, and tossed them into the Mississippi River chained to a Jeep engine. They were still alive.
Their bodies — or what was left of them — were found 10 weeks later, an incidental consequence of the intense search mounted in a far more prominent Mississippi case that summer — the murder of three civil rights workers, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney. In October 1964 the FBI arrested two papermill workers, Klansmen James Ford Seale and Charles Marcus Edwards, for killing Moore and Dee, and turned them over to state authorities. Three months later a local district attorney inexplicably asked for — and got — a dismissal. Seale and Edwards were set free.
Today, nearly 43 years later, the FBI rearrested Seale, now 71, on federal — not state — kidnapping charges. Edwards, now 73, was not charged but he has been interviewed by the FBI and is expected to testify against Seale, who denies the charges.
As in so many cases involving civil rights-era murders, the arrests can be traced to a single newspaper reporter, Jerry Mitchell of the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. Since 1989 Mitchell has been a one-man cold case squad, steadily unearthing the evidence necessary to bring one aging Klansman after another to justice. Among his conquests: Imperial Grand Wizard Sam Bowers for ordering the fire-bomb murder of voting rights activist Vernon Dahmer, white supremacist Byron de la Beckwith for shooting NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers in the back with a long-range rifle, Klan recruiter Edgar Ray Killen for organizing the kidnap and murder of the three civil rights workers, and Klan foot soldier Bobby Frank Cherry, for his role in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four black girls. At the same time Mitchell's work has inspired others — journalists, citizens groups, federal and state investigators — to reexamine Klan killings throughout the South. The scorecard so far: 28 arrests leading to 22 convictions.
What makes this story so improbable is that on paper and in person Mitchell does not seem like a "muckraker" or "troublemaker," the two terms he uses most frequently to describe himself. He is a white Southern church-going Christian who works for a newspaper that was once so rabidly pro-segregation it editorialized against opponents of lynching.
"Mississippi has changed more than any other state," he says. "It's brought more civil rights cases than any other state — of course it had more cases to bring — but still you've got to give it credit."
At 47, Mitchell is lean, with red hair and beard. (In the movie version, he would be played by David Caruso.) His outward demeanor is easy going and friendly. He never argues with the people he interviews — or who call him on the phone to complain — no matter how crazy or misguided they may seem. But those who know him best — his wife Karen and his editor, Debbie Skipper — insist he is extremely competitive. He doesn't disagree. "If I'm told I can't have something," he says, "I want it a million times more."
Needless to say, Mitchell is not exactly popular with former members of the White Knights or some residents of Mississippi. Beckwith once called him "a little wretch." Others described him as a "white traitor," suggested he be "tarred and feathered and run out" of the state, or claimed he has "been inciting craven politicians to drag old, sick and defenseless citizens before 'kangaroo courts.'" He has been threatened numerous times but so far no one has tried anything, and Mitchell has never backed down. "To me it's just a matter of doing the right thing," he says. "You don't let people intimidate you — whether they're Klan guys or politicians or whoever."
His interview style, he says, is "the opposite of Mike Wallace." And that may be one reason he gets along with so many white supremacists. When he meets with them, he is there to listen, to draw the person out and possibly to find his interview subject in a lie. He actively hates the movie Absence of Malice because, among other things, the careless reporter portrayed by Sally Field does something too many journalists do: she waits until the last minute to try to contact a story subject suspected of a crime and seems content to go with "could not be reached for comment."
"Anybody who is any kind of decent journalist knows that some of the best material you get are from targets of investigations," Mitchell says. "So this notion that all you have to do is make some obligatory call to the target doesn't know much about journalism in my book."
The result is that Klansmen are willing to talk to Mitchell, even though they know he helped put away some of their associates. In 1999, for example, retired truck driver Bobby Frank Cherry, one of two surviving suspects in the Birmingham church bombing, invited Mitchell to visit him at his home in Mabank, Tex. During a six-hour interview, Cherry, then 71, insisted several times that he had nothing to do with the bombing. His alibi: he was home with a bad back, watching wrestling on TV at the time 19 sticks of dynamite on a timing device were believed to be planted in the church basement.
When Mitchell returned to his office, he asked the Clarion-Ledger's librarian Susan Gray to check the TV schedule in the Birmingham News for the evening before the bombing. A day or so later she left Mitchell a note: "There was NO wrestling." Mitchell didn't let it go at that. He spent days on the phone with various executives of Birmingham's two television stations at the time, understanding their programming, making sure there wasn't the slightest possibility that wrestling had aired that night. (Neither channel had shown wrestling for more than a year.) He also asked Cherry about it several times but the Klansman stuck to his account. When Mitchell wrote his story, he let Cherry air his views — and racial slurs — in print; at least half of his 2,034-word article deals with Cherry's side, although some of it disputes his positions. "Something that has zero credibility, I'm not going to let stand," Mitchell says. "I'm going to get someone to challenge it because I believe in truth too. But I'm going to let them have their say."
Mitchell's story helped reopen the bombing case, one that J. Edgar Hoover had shut down in 1965. On May 22, 2002, Cherry was convicted in federal court in Birmingham of four counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He died of cancer November 18, 2004. "This is the kind of stuff you live for as an investigative reporter," Mitchell says. "I had no idea when I went to talk to the guy that that's what would come out of it. I just wanted the guy to talk. A lot of times you give people enough rope, they hang themselves."
This "assume-nothing" approach helped Mitchell get the case against Seale reopened. Seven years ago, after discovering that Moore and Dee had been beaten in the Homochitto National Forest, Mitchell wondered why the case fell under state jurisdiction. If at least part of it took place on federally owned land, he asked, wouldn't it be a federal crime? At first the U.S. Attorney agreed and reopened the case. But he quickly re-closed it. The FBI said its files had been destroyed. It didn't take long for Mitchell to find another set of the 687-page case file and get the case reopened once again.
Even so, the case continued to linger. In 2005, Moore's brother, Thomas, a retired Army sergeant major, came to Mississippi, met with authorities and helped set up a reward for information into the case. Mitchell credits Moore with pushing the FBI to make an arrest. "He never forgot, never gave up and never stopped believing that justice could be done," Mitchell says.
The most telling object on Mitchell's desk in the second floor newsroom of the Clarion-Ledger is not the row of rolodexes he doesn't use anymore (he stores contact information electronically). Nor is it the quote from Jeremiah pasted to his computer or the framed one from Deuteronomy that his daughter gave him one Father's Day. Rather it is a row of reference books: one dictionary, one thesaurus, two bibles and three movie guides. Like many journalists, Mitchell writes screenplays. Funny ones. He is a satirist at heart. As a teenager, he spent hours memorizing Bill Cosby routines and watching Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy. He even considered humor as a career. "I wanted to write satire," he recalls. "And then I realized that, well, there aren't that many people who pay people to write satire. At least if I go into journalism, I can get paid."
Mitchell describes himself as a Texan, but for the first six years of his life he was a Navy brat. He was born in Springfield, Mo., in 1959 while his mother Jane was visiting relatives. ("She went up there for a baby shower and had me instead.") He next lived in San Diego and San Francisco while his father, Jerry Sr., a Navy pilot, flew F8 Crusader jet fighters off aircraft carriers. In the mid-60s, about the time Klan violence was at its height, his father retired from the Navy and the family moved to the Texas side of Texarkana where the elder Mitchell worked a series of jobs — Texaco distributor, tire salesman, commodities broker and real estate developer.
Jerry recalls having little racial awareness growing up, although he still feels guilty today for not defending a black girl who, he says, was "teased unmercifully" after integrating Pleasant Grove Elementary when he was in the second grade. And he remembers his mother dressing him down for using the N-word when he was slightly older, an event he says has had a lasting impact. "I'm very grateful for my mom to have done that," he says. "It would have been so easy for me to be part of the culture I was living in."
"Boo," as he was known, was an only child — for good reason. His father's side of the family suffered from a rare, unnamed fatal illness that combined forms of muscular dystrophy, Paget bone disorder and frontal temporal dementia — before the age of 50. Jerry's grandfather and all four of his siblings died from it; Mitchell's aunt has it today. Five years ago, Mitchell and other members of his family volunteered to be subjects in a research project at Southern Illinois University into the disease. Not only did the doctors find the gene responsible, they determined that neither Jerry nor his father were at risk.
Some argue that Jerry's drive came from a lifelong fear that he had little time to live. But he dismisses that theory. He got his passion, he says, from his father, who regularly played one-on-one basketball with him. This was an extremely physical game, Mitchell recalls, reminiscent of scenes in The Great Santini. "Dad never let me win at anything," he says. "I'll never forget the day I finally beat him in basketball."
Another influence was a steady diet of Bible reading and church attendance. Mitchell's father was a lay Church of Christ minister for a few years; his maternal grandfather preached full time. So when it came time to go to college, Mitchell's choice was relatively simple: Harding, a conservative Christian college (now university) in Searcy, Ark. He majored in speech and journalism, and took over an existing column in the college paper, The Bison. It was called the "Fifth Column" because of its location on the page. "I thought that was hysterical," says Mitchell. "I assumed whoever made that up originally had no clue that 'fifth column' had another meaning."
As a columnist he took on college authorities over a meal ticket program that didn't cover the cost of meals. The school found a better way. He also blasted the college for banning sandals. "The next thing the administration will be telling us is that the apostles wore Nikes," he wrote. He was, he says, something of a rebel, a least the kind of rebel tolerated at a small southern conservative Christian college. He sported a top hat, a Beatles T-shirt, orange suspenders matching his longish hair and mustache (beards were not allowed), bell bottoms and countless musical, political and satirical buttons. In the 1981 yearbook, amid all the photos of seniors in coats and ties and dresses, is an irreverent "Boo Mitchell," in suspenders and top hat, reading a copy of Mother Goose. "I plan on being unemployed," the caption reads. Deadpans Mitchell today: "I had entirely too much fun in college."
After graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter. He took writing classes at the University of Southern California and supported himself by proofreading yellow page ads. But he couldn't find a job in journalism; plus there was this girl back at Harding, Karen O'Donaghy, who was a year behind him. So he came back, got married, worked briefly at the semi-weekly Panola Watchman in Carthage, Tex., and then joined The Sentinel-Record in Hot Springs, Ark. Along the way, one editor convinced him to drop "Boo" from his byline and another suggested he read All the Presidents Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's account of their Watergate reporting. "It inspired me," he says. "It gave me focus. I was like, 'Yeah, this is what I want to do.'"
For the next three years, Mitchell cut his teeth investigating corruption at a city-run theme park in Hot Springs. "I didn't know how to fashion an investigative story," he says. "I stumbled my way through the whole thing." But he learned a lot, including what he sees as two major lessons. "I recognized the power reporters have," he says. "The other lesson is persistence. As I've told young journalists, you have to be willing to write about a story until you're sick of it."
In 1986, he joined the Clarion-Ledger, the statewide Mississippi paper that had been little more than a house organ for the Ku Klux Klan for more than 60 years. Owned by two brothers, Thomas and Robert Hederman, the paper had been active supporters of Ross Barnett and other segregationist governors.
But in the early 1970s, Robert's son, Rea, took over and began making changes. A recent graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism — hardly a bastion of liberalism at the time — he began staffing the paper with former classmates who made journalistic moves that were standard anywhere else but shocking in Mississippi. Among other things, they actually interviewed blacks; they covered black members of the state legislature, and they reported the votes of Mississippi's congressional delegation in Washington. They also began to do investigative reporting. One of their in-depth stories, looking at poverty among black farmers in the Delta, won the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in 1979. But anything connected to the Kennedys did not sit well in Mississippi and Rea Hederman, now publisher of The New York Review of Books, was ultimately fired.
By the time Mitchell joined the Clarion-Ledger, the paper was well on its way to turning itself around. In 1982, it was sold to the Gannett chain and the following year won a Pulitzer for a series on education in the state. At first Mitchell was content to work in Tupelo, covering northeastern Mississippi, but two years later he wrangled the job of court reporter in Jackson. Because of his interest in movies, an editor asked him if he wanted to cover the state premiere of Mississippi Burning, a fictitious account of the 1964 murders of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner. The film changed his life. "I knew nothing. I was totally ignorant and stupid of the civil rights movement," he says. "I always say it was the beginning of my education."
It didn't take Mitchell long to get going. On Sunday, September 10, 1989, eight months after seeing Mississippi Burning, he had the lead story in the Clarion-Ledger: "State spied on Schwerner 3 months before death." In it, Mitchell described how a secret state agency known as the Sovereignty Commission had put Schwerner and his wife Rita under surveillance as they worked for the Congress of Racial Equality in Meridian. More ominously, the commission had circulated a description of their car and license plate number to police and sheriff's departments around the state.
It was the same car, a 1963 blue Ford station wagon, which the three civil rights workers were driving when they were arrested for speeding on June 21, 1964. They were released from the Neshoba County Jail late that night and never seen alive again.
The Sovereignty Commission had been formed in 1956 to promote segregation and none of its records had ever before been made public. But a handful of commission documents had been mistakenly attached to a lawsuit in Jackson and Mitchell was able to use them as the basis of his story. Thousands of other Sovereignty Commission documents remained sealed, by order of the state legislature. And Mitchell went to work to uncover them. "From that point forward, I was like, 'What else is in there? How can I get it?'" he says.
Three Sundays later, he struck again. This time his front-page article described how the Sovereignty Commission screened prospective jurors during the second trial of Byron de la Beckwith, who had been charged with shooting Medgar Evers in the driveway of his Jackson home just after midnight on June 12, 1963. An all-white, all-male jury had split 6-6 in Beckwith's first trial in January 1964. Before his re-trial, the documents showed, a Sovereignty Commission investigator gathered personal and biographical information on the jury pool, giving such descriptions as "fair and impartial" or "believed to be Jewish" next to each name. That April another all-white, all-male jury deadlocked, this time 8-4 for conviction, and Beckwith was set free. "The state was secretly assisting Byron de la Beckwith's defense," Mitchell says. "And nobody knew that."
The day after Mitchell's story ran, Evers' widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, demanded the case be reopened, even though more than 25 years had passed. The day after that, the Clarion-Ledger backed her up in an editorial. And by the end of the month, the district attorney said he would empanel a grand jury.
Until this point, Mitchell had physically seen only the Schwerner documents. He had gotten two independent sources to read him the ones in the Beckwith case. But in December he struck gold. He obtained — don't ask him how — 2,400 documents from the Sovereignty Commission. In January 1990 the Clarion-Ledger ran a special report called "Mississippi's Secret Past." They showed how the commission, which was chaired during much of its heyday by Gov. Ross Barnett, "went to unusual lengths to preserve Mississippi's white society — from spying on a group of Jewish children to checking out a black dentist at a white dentist's request."
One of the 15 stories was headlined: "Jackson papers were tools of spy commission." Written by Mitchell, it talked about how the two papers owned by the Hedermans, the Clarion-Ledger and the now defunct Jackson Daily News, "regularly killed stories and ran segregationist propaganda at the request of the Sovereignty Commission."
After that, Mitchell switched tactics. He moved from documents to interviews. His first big one, in April 1990, was with Byron de la Beckwith who, apparently, had not figured out that Mitchell was responsible for the reopening of the Evers case. "I had to pass a whole litany of questions, like, 'Are you white?' 'Where'd you grow up?' 'Who are your parents?' 'Where do you go to church?'" Mitchell says. But he had no problem passing. "I had a conservative Christian upbringing," he laughs. "He loved my answers." There was only one snag. "He was a little concerned when I told him I had a beard," Mitchell says. "But then I found out later that he considered red heads to be the purest of the white race."
The interview was at Beckwith's home in Signal Mountain, Tenn. "He was the most racist person I ever spent any serious time with," Mitchell says. "He'd say ridiculous stuff, like AIDS is more contagious than the common cold. He was nuts." Beckwith also espoused a belief in what is known as "Christian Identity," the idea that whites are superior and have the right to carry out violence against blacks. At one point he quoted the bible as saying blacks were "mongrels." "I knew the bible well enough to know it's not in there," Mitchell says. "But I was happy to play dumb. So I asked him, 'Where exactly is that in the Bible?'" With that, Beckwith took out a standard reference book, Nave's Topical Bible, and tried to look it up in the alphabetical listings. Mitchell says he had trouble keeping a straight face. "He starts flipping through it, thinking he's going to find 'mongrel' somewhere around 'mercy,'" he says. "Needless to say, he did not."
Afterwards, Beckwith insisted on walking Mitchell to the car where he delivered a not-so-subtle threat. "If you write negative things about white Caucasian Christians, God will punish you," he told Mitchell. "If God does not punish you directly, several individuals will do it for him." Beckwith's wife, Thelma, had also insisted on making Mitchell a turkey sandwich. He had politely refused but she stuffed it in his briefcase anyway. Given the threat, and the possibility that Beckwith had agreed to meet him only to kill him, Mitchell tossed the sandwich as soon as he could. "She was as nutty as he was," Mitchell says.
When Mitchell got back from the interview, he had a rude awakening. His editor spiked the interview. "I understand why," Mitchell says. "He kept getting people calling, wanting to know, 'Why are you digging up the past? Leave us alone.' It was all new. No one had ever gone back and done one of these cases before."
So Mitchell was allowed to report news developments in the Beckwith case, but nothing more. Shortly after that Mitchell telephoned Beckwith and got another rude awakening. The one-time Klansman had figured out that Mitchell was the reporter whose stories had led to a third trial. "He said, 'I'm going to live to be 120. I don't know how much longer you've got. I would hate for you to have a wreck or have somebody molest you. Do you know anybody who would do that?'" Mitchell recalls. "And I said, 'Do you?'"
That December Beckwith was indicted on murder charges — and things changed for Mitchell at the Clarion-Ledger. "All of a sudden," he says, "They were like, 'Oh, okay,'" He rewrote his Beckwith interview and the paper ran it. The indictment was the turning point; Mitchell had proved that "investigative history" could be done. "I just can't say enough about what Jerry has done for journalism and for the history of Mississippi," says Ronnie Agnew, the current editor of the Clarion-Ledger. "He's given a paper tucked away in Mississippi a name that's respected everywhere I go."
Beckwith was convicted of murdering Evers on Saturday, February 5, 1994, and sentenced to life in prison the same day. On the following Monday, Mitchell got a phone call from the sheriff. "He told me Beckwith kept saying two words after they took him off," says Mitchell. "I said, 'What two words?" He said, 'Jerry Mitchell.'"
It was just what Mitchell didn't want to hear. "I never thought he'd ever do anything," Mitchell says. "But I always thought he might spout off to some skin head or some white supremacist who'd think, 'Oh I'll make him happy. I'll go and take care of this guy for him.'" That never happened; Beckwith died in custody January 21, 2001.
Next up for Mitchell was Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers. Mitchell nailed him by "working the edges," as he likes to say. He started out doing a story on the relatively short terms the 15 Klansmen convicted in 1966 murder of Vernon Dahmer, an NAACP leader, had actually served. But he soon discovered that one of them — Billy Roy Pitts — had not spent a single day in prison for his life sentence. He hadn't exactly disappeared either. Mitchell found him by using switchboard.com.
Ultimately Pitts gave Mitchell a lengthy incriminating taped statement describing what happened on the night two carloads of Klansmen, dressed in white hoods, killed Dahmer, 58, after he announced blacks could pay their poll taxes at his grocery store in Hattiesburg. They had thrown Molotov cocktails at Dahmer's house, but the voting rights champion took out a gun and fired back, allowing his family to escape out the back. Although he died in the fire, he managed to blow out a Klansman's tire and dislodge a gun, leaving plenty of evidence for investigators to find. As a result 15 White Knights had been convicted — but not Bowers. He survived four hung juries in the case.
After talking to Mitchell, Pitts agreed to testify against Bowers and two other Klansmen in a retrial. The three were arrested in May and this time Bowers was convicted. He died in the Mississippi State Prison in Parchman in November 2006 after spending eight years behind bars. He was 82.
Soon after Bowers conviction, Mitchell discovered the imperial wizard had given secret interviews in the mid-1980s to the state's Archives in History project. The conversations were sealed, to be opened only after he died. By the end of 1998, Mitchell had obtained a leaked transcript. What was in it was dynamite. At one point, Bowers implicated Edgar Ray "Preacher" Killen, a Baptist minister in Philadelphia, Miss., for organizing the 1964 murder of the three civil rights workers. For the next six years, Mitchell pursued Killen, finding important new witnesses as well as documents showing official intransigence, both federal and state, along the way. He even took Killen and his wife to a catfish dinner.
In 2005 his dogged efforts paid off. Killen was arrested and in June a Neshoba County jury convicted him of three counts of manslaughter. He got a 60-year sentence — 20 years for each count.
At first the judge was willing to let Killen remain on bail while he appealed. After all, Killen, then 80, had appeared at trial in a wheel chair, with a nurse at his side and an oxygen tube up his nose. When he was sworn in to discuss his condition, he slowly lifted his right hand with his left. But a month later Mitchell reported that Killen had been seen walking around unaided at a filling station, putting gas into his truck. Bail was immediately revoked and Killen has been in custody ever since.
Given Mitchell's many triumphs, it not surprising his den wall is covered with awards. In 2006 alone, he won the George Polk, the Tom Renner, the Vernon Jarrett, and the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Awards, plus he delivered the prestigious Hodding Carter lecture at Syracuse University. He also came in second — to Dana Priest of The Washington Post — for a Pulitzer in beat reporting, the third time he came close to winning one. Since the Pulitzer committee only looks at individual stories or series in any given year, rather than at a lifetime of work, it seems unlikely he will ever get one, especially since so many witnesses — and more importantly, defendants — are dying off.
Mitchell is acutely aware of how little time there is. He keeps the Missing Poster for the three civil rights workers — the case that first inspired him — as his screensaver. It is, he says, a reminder "not to give up." He sees the screensaver every day.
Judge Won't Drop Charges In Cold Case Slayings
Judge Won't Drop Charges In Cold Case Slayings
JACKSON, Miss. -- A federal judge has refused to dismiss kidnapping charges against reputed Ku Klux Klansman James Ford Seale in the 1964 slayings of two black men in Mississippi.
U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate also refused to allow the 71-year-old Seale out on bond after hearing testimony about his health.
Seale has pleaded not guilty to two counts of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy. He could be sentenced to up to life in prison if convicted in the deaths of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee.
Prosecutors said Moore and Dee were seized and beaten by Klansmen, then thrown into the Mississippi River to drown.
Seale and reputed KKK member Charles Marcus Edwards were arrested in 1964. The FBI -- consumed by the search for three civil rights workers who had disappeared that summer -- turned the case over to local authorities, who promptly threw out all charges.
The Justice Department reopened the case in 2000.
U.S. governor censored news release, photos in civil rights cold case
U.S. governor censored news release, photos in civil rights cold case
Documents obtained by CBC News show that the Mississippi governor at the time of the 1964 race killings of two African-American teenagers censored a news release related to the case and kept photos of their remains from the media at the height of the civil rights movement.
Paul B. Johnson Jr., who died last year, became governor of Mississippi in January 1964. The Democratic politician was known for his support of segregation, and had personally blocked the way of James Meredith, the first black student to register at the University of Mississippi, as Meredith tried to make his way on campus.
FBI documents show that Johnson personally influenced aspects of the Charles Moore and Henry Dee case.
An autopsy photograph shows the remains of Henry Dee, pulled from the Mississippi River in 1964. Paul Johnson, Jr., the governor of Mississippi at the time, requested that this and other photographs not be released to the public and the media
Moore and Dee, both 19, were two African Americans killed by the Ku Klux Klan on May 2, 1964. Their remains were discovered amid the frantic search for three civil rights workers who had disappeared from Neshoba County on June 21, 1964.
Moore and Dee's case was dropped after local authorities refused to call a grand jury, despite an FBI investigation that resulted in the arrest of two men. The case was re-opened in 2000 after a flurry of media reports on it, but again, no charges were laid. According to the FBI, the case was officially closed again in June 2003.
The case was again re-opened in 2005, following the efforts of CBC documentary filmmaker David Ridgen and one of the victim's brothers, Thomas Moore. In 2007, during the production of Ridgen's documentary about the killings, James Ford Seale was indicted and arrested in connection with the case and now awaits trial on kidnapping charges.
An FBI memorandum shows Gov. Paul Johnson's request to censor autopsy photographs in the 1964 race slayings of two African-American men
Documents from the 1964 investigation show that Johnson personally censored a news release about the killings of Dee and Moore that came out Nov. 6, 1964, when reputed Klansmen Seale and Charles Edwards were arrested for murder in the case.
Johnson ordered that all references to the Mississippi Highway Patrol’s involvement in the case be removed for fear he’d lose some of the special powers he’d gained as more civil rights cases began to pile up.
"Governor [Johnson] was most anxious that all mention of the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol be omitted from the release in connection with the arrests of Seale and Edwards," one of the documents states.
The original release was scrapped and a new one drafted, mentioning that the FBI made the arrests in conjunction with "local authorities."
The news release describes Moore and Dee simply as "two Negroes from Meadville," while Seale and Edwards, arrested for their alleged parts in the murders, are described as army veterans with families and careers.
A photograph of Dee's faded identity card was found with his remains
CBC News has also learned that after autopsies were done on Dee and Moore, Johnson ordered photographs of their badly decayed remains out of public circulation.
Johnson communicated with the FBI on the evening of July 13, 1964, to request that the photos not be made available to anyone, including the press and members of the public. Al Rosen, then the FBI's deputy chief, agreed.
Johnson appears to have taken the photographs for his own files. They can now be found in the former governor's collection of papers stored at the University of Southern Mississippi.
CBC News spoke with Rosen
Contacted shortly before his death in 2006, an ailing 100-year-old Rosen told CBC News he couldn't recall the photographs incident.
In the aftermath of the national outrage spurred by the 1955 lying-in-state photo of Emmett Till’s mutilated, river-rotted corpse, Johnson might have been worried the photos would further inflame the nation. The case of the missing civil rights workers, which later formed the plot of the film Mississippi Burning, was already creating an uproar at the time.
It is not known whether Johnson had any inkling that Moore and Dee had been murdered by white supremacists at the time he took the photos from the hospital.
When CBC News asked U.S. Attorney for Southern Mississippi Dunn Lampton if it was standard procedure for a governor to have autopsy pictures removed from hospital records, he replied, "Hell no!"
"Mississippi government at that time was a good-old-boy network, and the good old boys co-operated with each other," said Charles Sallis, a history professor at the University of Mississippi.
"If they had to get around statutes or get around laws, they could just do that with a wink and a nod and say, 'Now, don't say anything to anybody about this.'"
Mother of Slain Civil Rights Worker Dies
Mother of Slain Civil Rights Worker Dies
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Fannie Lee Chaney, the mother of one of three civil-rights workers killed in the ``Mississippi Burning'' case in 1964, has died, her son said Wednesday. Chaney, 84, had lived to see a reputed Klan leader convicted two years ago in the young men's deaths.
She died Tuesday, Ben Chaney said from his mother's home in Willingboro, N.J.
James Chaney, his older brother, was killed June 21, 1964, in central Mississippi's Neshoba County, along with fellow civil rights workers Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman.
Mississippi prosecutors revived their investigation of the killings a few years ago, and Fannie Lee Chaney testified in June 2005 at the Philadelphia, Miss., trial of reputed Ku Klux Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen.
Killen was convicted of three counts of manslaughter on June 21, 2005 - exactly 41 years after the killings. Now 82, Killen is serving a 60-year prison sentence.
Fannie Lee Chaney, then 82, testified that on the morning of the killings, she made breakfast at her Meridian, Miss., home for Schwerner, Goodman and her son, whom she called ``J.E.'' She said her son went to join the other two in delivering books.
``He never come back,'' she said.
Fannie Lee Chaney said she moved from Mississippi in 1965 after receiving threats, including one from a man who said he would dynamite her house and another caller who told her she would ``be put in a hole like James was.''
Chaney, a black man from Mississippi, and Schwerner and Goodman, white men from New York, were looking into the torching of a black church and helping to register black voters during what was called Freedom Summer. They had been stopped for speeding, jailed briefly and then released, after which they were ambushed by a gang of Klansmen.
Their bodies were found weeks later buried in an earthen dam. They had been beaten and shot.
Killen was tried along with several others in 1967 on federal charges of violating the victims' civil rights. The all-white jury deadlocked in Killen's case, but seven others were convicted. None served more than six years.
Killen was the only person ever indicted on state murder charges in the case.
The case was portrayed in the 1988 movie ``Mississippi Burning.''
Schwerner's widow, Rita Schwerner Bender of Seattle, said Wednesday that she and her late husband visited the Chaney home for meals and fellowship in the months before the killings. She said the 2005 trial was the last time she saw Fannie Lee Chaney.
``It sounds trite when you say it; she loved her children dearly. She was devastated by J.E.'s death.''
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who helped prosecute Killen, recalled that he held Fannie Lee Chaney's hand to steady her as she walked to the witness stand to testify. Though her legs were shaky with age, Hood said, she seemed to have found an inner strength and calmness.
``She told me she just wanted to live ... to have her day in court over her son's murder,'' Hood said Wednesday. ``I'm glad she got to live to see the trial.''
Funeral arrangements are pending, and information will be released this week, Ben Chaney said.
'Dead' Klansman on trial over 1964 deaths
'Dead' Klansman on trial over 1964 deaths
Thomas Moore is looking forward to finally confronting face-to-face James Ford Seale, a Ku Klux Klansman who came back from the dead.
"I want to look at him," he said. "I want to tell him about the pain he caused me and my family."
Moore, 63, a retired sergeant major, today recalled the day he found out that Seale was still alive. "I was so happy. We thought the guy was dead and so did everyone else."
The trial opens tomorrow in the Mississippi state capital, Jackson, of Seale, 71, a former worker in a paper plant, crop duster and police officer, accused of kidnapping and conspiracy in relation to the murder of two black teenagers in 1964, one of them Moore's brother.
According to the indictment, the two 19-year-olds, Moore and Henry Dee, were kidnapped by the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, tortured and dumped in the Mississippi river, Moore tied to a Jeep engine block, and, according to an FBI informant at the time, still breathing.
The killings marked the beginning of a summer of madness, as the KKK responded to the civil rights movement with the fiery crosses, church bombings and murders depicted in Alan Parker's 1988 film, Mississippi Burning.
The Seale prosecution could be among the last of the KKK trials. Although the justice department has promised to reopen cases, witnesses are dying off and files have been lost.
Now living in Colorado, Moore had been brought up in Franklin County, one of the strongholds of the White Knights. He returned in 2005 with a Canadian filmmaker, David Ridgen, to investigate the murders.
Pulling up at a petrol station for an egg and sausage sandwich, he met by chance a distant cousin, Kenny Byrd. Moore explained why they were in Franklin County and said it was a pity that Seale, who had been one of the main suspects, was dead. His family had been saying so since 2000.
The local Clarion-Ledger had reported it as fact: so too had the Los Angeles Times. Byrd replied: "Hell no, he lives over there."
Moore, tracing lost files, speaking to potential witnesses, harrassing former Klansmen and mobilising the African-American community, successfully campaigned to have the FBI reopen the case.
Seale is expected to plead not guilty, in a trial expected to last about a fortnight. If found guilty, he faces life in prison.
The discovery of the bodies was depicted in Mississippi Burning. The FBI had been hunting for three missing civil rights activists _ two white, one black _ and when a fisherman found Moore's body, the agents, the government and media were initially excited. That passed quickly when it was realised, as a CBC report at the time put it, they had the "wrong body".
It was this that caught the interest of Ridgen, who works for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. "How can it be a wrong body?," he said, adding that the contrast between the interest in the two cases was simply down to the fact that whites were involved in one and only blacks in the other.
"The difference was stark. When whites were involved, the world went crazy."
Mississippi is different these days, at least on the surface. It is evident to anyone arriving at the airport at Jackson, now called Jackson-Evers International in recognition of the civil rights leader, Medgar Evans, who was assassinated in 1963. It is evident too in the fact that the judge who will try the case, Henry Wingate, is African-American.
But Heidi Beirich, the deputy director of intelligence at a Jackson-based civil rights group, the Southern Poverty Law Centre, which investigates hate crimes, cautioned that though the Ku Klux Klan and institutionalised racism is mainly a thing of the past, Mississippi still has problems.
She noted that when the state voted in 2002 to retain the Confederate flag, a symbol of hate for African-Americans, the divide was on racial grounds. In addition, African-Americans in the state continue to live in the poorest areas, with the worst schools.
"As far as the Klan is concerned, its heyday is definitely in the past. It hit its peak in the 1920s at 4 million. The number of Klansmen is way down: we estimate 5,000 - 6,000. It is not a cohesive organisation any longer: it is fragmented. They are no longer capable of the kind of terror they rained down on the South in the 1950s and 1960s," Ms Beirich said.
But the sense of dread inspired by he KKK has not gone completely.
Ridgen, who put together a documentary, Mississippi Cold Case, said: "The psychological threat was always there. There was fear every time in Franklin County. We never took the same route. We never told anyone in advance about coming."
At the trial, the key witness is likely to be a former Klansman, Charles Edwards, a suspect at the time, who is expected to give evidence against Seale in return for immunity.
Former FBI agents who carried out a fairly thorough investigation at the time are also scheduled to testify. After their investigation in 1964, they handed over the case to the local justice department that, as was not unusual at the time, quickly dropped it.
No real explanation has been given for the killings. Klansmen at the time told the FBI that Dee had been peeping at one of their wives while others alleged gun smuggling into a black church.
The indictment suggests otherwise: "The White Knights... targeted for violence African-Americans they believed were involved in civil rights activity in order to intimidate and retaliate against such individuals."
Dee's sister, Thelma Collins, who now lives in Louisiana, said today she could not remember him being involved in any civil rights activity. "He was quiet, never said much," she recalled.
She is saddened that the case took 43 years to come to court: "It is pitiful that those boys were killed and no one did anything about it. If it had been me, they would have brought me to trial."
She will be given an opportunity at the trial to make a victim's statement and will speak about her brother. She is dreading seeing Seale, but promised: "I am not going to say anything harsh." Moore will also get a chance to make a victim's statement. He intends to tell Seale about his younger brother, a student at a technical college.
Moore was in the army at the time: "We never had a chance to talk about what he wanted to be. He would have gone further than me. He had more ambition than me."
He will look directly at Seale. "I want to tell how it is to go without a brother, my son without an uncle, how Charles never had the opportunity to make mistakes, to live his life."
The reopening of racist killing cases from the 1960s in the south began in 1990 when a white supremicist, Byron La Beckwith, was indicted and eventually jailed for the assassination in 1963 of Medgar Evans, who was chairman of the Mississippi of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People.
This encouraged the FBI and local justice departments to look again at unsolved cases. Since then, there has been six prosecutions in Mississippi, including Seale's tomorrow.
Authorities in seven states have re-examined a total of 29 killings and made 29 arrests, leading to 22 convictions.
One of the most prominent was the trial and jailing in 2001 of Thomas Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry for the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four young girls.
The revulsion created by the bombing helped turn public opinion behind the civil rights movement.
In 2005, Edgar Ray Killen, 80, was jailed for the murder of the three civil rights activists depicted in Mississippi Burning. But the reality is there may not be many more: witnesses are dying off and records have been lost.
Minister says Seale sawed off a shotgun
Minister says Seale sawed off a shotgun
JACKSON, Miss. — A reputed Klansman on trial in the deadly attacks on two black teenagers went to his minister's home in 1963, sawed off a shotgun and grinned while saying it was to protect his own family, the retired minister testified Thursday.
Robert W. Middleton testified that defendant James Ford Seale also asked him that day: "'What do you think would happen if I just walked into a nigger juke joint and started shooting?'"
Middleton said he replied that Seale would probably end up in prison.
Seale, 71, is being tried on federal kidnapping and conspiracy charges tied to the attacks on the two 19-year-olds in May 1964 in southwest Mississippi.
Another witness testified this week that Seale pointed a sawed-off shotgun at Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore during the attacks in the Homochitto National Forest.
The badly decomposed corpses of Dee and Moore were pulled from a Mississippi River backwater more than two months later and more than 70 miles away.
Middleton testified Thursday that in April 1963 he was a financially struggling young man and that Seale was a close friend who helped him get a job as minister of the church Seale attended in rural Franklin County.
Middleton, now 77, said that in 1963, people in the 60- to 70-member all-white congregation of Bunkley Baptist Church were upset because the federal government was talking about racially integrating the schools.
"Everybody was going crazy," he said as Seale stared, stone-faced, from across the courtroom.
Middleton testified that during an adult Sunday school class one weekend in 1963, white women talked about being followed by black people. One man, Archie Prather, volunteered to shoot at any blacks who caused trouble, Middleton said. At the time, Middleton said, he was living rent-free in a home owned by Prather, who has since died.
Seale has denied involvement in the Klan, a highly secretive white supremacist group.
Don Irby, a former friend of the defendant's son, testified Thursday that during deer hunting trips two decades ago, he heard Seale bragging about being in the Klan. Seale also told the hunters that he was a Franklin County constable and had a "license to kill," Irby said.
Defense attorney George Lucas said Seale was never a constable, and he asked Irby whether conversations at deer camp were sometimes "B.S."
"I don't know what that means," said Irby, a mechanic who noted that his friendship with James Ford Seale Jr. ended years ago after an argument at work.
Linda Luallen, the ex-wife of James Ford Seale Jr., testified that she had seen her former father-in-law's Klan robe and his home movies of Klan rallies.
Though Seale has denied involvement with the Klan, confessed Klansman Charles Marcus Edwards testified Monday that he and Seale belonged to the same chapter, or "klavern." Edwards — who was granted immunity from prosecution — testified that Prather also was in the klavern, led by Seale's father.
Edwards testified this week that Klansmen were chasing rumors about black people stockpiling guns for an uprising in May 1964. He said Seale abducted Dee and Moore and pointed the gun at them while other Klan members beat them.
Reputed Klansman Convicted in '64 Case
Reputed Klansman Convicted of Kidnapping, Conspiracy in 1964 Killings of Black Teens
By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS Associated Press Writer
JACKSON, Miss. Jun 15, 2007 (AP)
After 43 years, Thomas Moore can tell his brother that his killer has been brought to justice.
"I'm going to go to that cemetery, that Mount Olive Cemetery," he said. "I'm going to tell Charles Moore, `I told you that I see it to the end.'"
The end came Thursday with the conviction of reputed Klansman James Ford Seale on federal charges of kidnapping and conspiracy in the 1964 deaths of Charles Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee. Seale faces life in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 24.
The 19-year-olds disappeared from Franklin County on May 2, 1964, and their bodies were found later in the Mississippi River.
Thomas Moore, 63, of Colorado Springs, Colo., was instrumental in getting authorities to take another look at the case. He has not lived in Mississippi since he entered the Army in 1964, weeks before his brother disappeared.
"I now feel that Mississippi is my home," said Moore, a Vietnam veteran who spent 30 years in the military. "Mississippi, you came a long way and I'm so proud the jury spoke."
Seale, 71, sat stone-faced in court as the verdict was read and showed no emotion as marshals led him away. Jurors reached the verdict after two hours of deliberations.
Several relatives of the victims dabbed tears from their eyes. Among them was Thelma Collins of Springfield, La., Dee's older sister.
"I thank the Lord that we got justice," she said outside the courthouse.
After the verdict, a half dozen of Seale's relatives, including his wife, ran out of the courthouse to a waiting sport utility vehicle, bumping some reporters in the scramble.
"Obviously, we're very disappointed in the jury's verdict and we certainly plan to appeal," public defender Kathy Nester said.
The prosecution's star witness was Charles Marcus Edwards, a confessed Klansman. During closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors acknowledged they made "a deal with the devil" but said that offering immunity to Edwards to get his testimony against Seale was the only way to get justice.
Edwards testified that Dee and Moore were forced into the trunk of Seale's Volkswagen and driven to a farm. They were later tied up and driven across the Mississippi River into Louisiana. Edwards said Seale told him that heavy weights were attached to the two teenagers and they were then dumped alive into the river.
Seale was arrested on a state murder charge in 1964, but the charge was later dropped.
U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton told jurors that Klansman abducted and beat Dee and Moore in an attempt to find out if blacks were bringing firearms into Franklin County.
The killings of Moore and Dee are among several decades-old civil rights cases reopened by federal investigators. In February, federal officials announced they were reopening investigations into about a dozen such cases.
Edgar Ray Killen, an 80-year-old former Ku Klux Klansman, was convicted last June of manslaughter in the killings of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964.
In Alabama, Bobby Frank Cherry was convicted in 2002 of killing four black girls in the bombing of a Birmingham church in 1963. In 2001, Thomas Blanton was convicted.
Justices reject appeal in 1964 kidnapping case related to civil rights
By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
November 2, 2009 12:07 p.m. EST
Washington (CNN) -- The Supreme Court has refused a lower court's unusual request to decide whether a shocking 45-year-old civil rights crime can be prosecuted decades later.
The justices Monday dismissed an appeal involving James Ford Seale, convicted in the 1964 kidnapping of two teenagers whose bodies were found in a backwater area of the Mississippi River. The reputed former Ku Klux Klan member had long been suspected in the crime, but it was officially unsolved until Seale was indicted in 2007, and later convicted. He is serving three life sentences.
The move by the high court not to get involved keeps in place Seale's original indictment, but does not resolve the larger question of whether similar cases can be prosecuted.
The issue could have enormous implications for several dozen "cold cases" involving racially motivated crimes dating back to the 1950s.
Seale had appealed his conviction, claiming the statute of limitations had expired five years after the crime. The confusion arises over the fact that kidnapping could be considered a capital offense in 1964, and thus had no time limit for a prosecution. The high court in 1968 eliminated the federal death penalty for that crime, and Congress four years later changed the law to reflect that ruling. But lawmakers 15 years ago reinstated kidnapping as death penalty-eligible.
So the justices were being asked to decide when the statute of limitations kicked in, if ever.
Justice John Paul Stevens, supported by his conservative colleague Justice Antonin Scalia, thought the court should get involved.
"I see no benefit and significant cost to postponing the question's resolution," Stevens wrote in dissent. "A prompt answer from this court will expedite the termination of this litigation and determine whether other similar cases may be prosecuted."
Seale, a former sheriff's deputy, was convicted in June 2007 of kidnapping and conspiracy in the disappearances of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, both 19.
Federal officials had initially trumpeted reopening the Seale case. "Today's indictment is one example of the FBI's strong and ongoing commitment to re-examining and investigating unsolved civil rights era murders and other crimes," FBI Director Robert S. Mueller said in January 2007. "Under our Cold Case Initiative, we will continue to identify and pursue these cases of racially motivated violence to ensure justice is served wherever possible."
Seale was not tried for murder, but prosecutors alleged that he and fellow Klansmen conspired to abduct, beat and murder Dee and Moore in May 1964. An indictment accused Seale and his cohorts of picking up the two men hitchhiking and driving them into the Homochitto National Forest in Franklin County, Mississippi, where the teenagers were beaten and interrogated at gunpoint.
Dee and Moore were then bound with duct tape and weighted down by an engine block and railroad rail. They were still alive when they were thrown into the Old Mississippi River, where they drowned, according to the FBI. Their decomposed bodies were found two months later during a search for three other missing civil rights workers that would later be known as the Mississippi Burning case.
Seale and another man, Charles Edwards, were arrested in the slayings in 1964, but were released on bond and never tried. The FBI turned the case over to local authorities, and the investigation was dropped after a justice of the peace said witnesses had refused to testify.
The case was revived in 2007 when Moore's brother -- during a visit to Franklin County to help research the case for a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary -- discovered Seale was still alive. Thomas Moore told CNN in January 2007 that he gave the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi FBI files on the case, which he had obtained from a Mississippi reporter. U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton helped form a task force that led to Seale's indictment. Seale was the only person convicted in the Moore and Dee murders, the Justice Department said.
Since then, other notable cold cases from the civil rights era also have gone to trial. In 2005, Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of manslaughter for his role in the Mississippi Burning case.
Adding to the unusual nature of the Seale case is that a lower court was unable to decide the matter. The full 18-judge panel on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals split evenly on the time-limit question. They then asked the high court to "certify" the question, a rarely used procedure that essentially asks the justices about how to proceed.
The Supreme Court was under no obligation to accept the case in this fashion, under its "Rule 19." That provision gives appeals courts the discretion to hand off to the high court "any question of law in any civil or criminal case as to which instructions are desired, and upon such certification the Supreme Court may give binding instructions or require the entire record to be sent up for decision of the entire matter in controversy."
Ex-Klansman convicted in '64 slayings sues FBI
Ex-Klansman convicted in '64 slayings sues FBI
Associated Press - February 25, 2010 3:54 PM ET
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A former Ku Klux Klansman convicted in the 1964 slayings of 3 civil rights workers has filed a lawsuit claiming the FBI used a mafia hit man to get information out of witnesses.
Edgar Ray Killen, who is now 85, was convicted in 2005 of manslaughter based in part on testimony from a trial 40 years earlier in Mississippi.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court claims the FBI used a gangster known as "The Grim Reaper," who allegedly pistol-whipped and intimidated witnesses during the investigation in the 1960s.
The FBI has never acknowledged using the gangster, Gregory Scarpa Sr.
FBI spokeswoman Deborah Madden had not seen the lawsuit and had no immediate comment.
The lawsuit also claims Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who helped prosecute Killen in 2005, was complacent in a "conspiracy of silence."
Hood says he gets sued all the time for "for playing by the rules" and this is just one more lawsuit.
Killen has maintained his innocence in the killings. He is serving a 60-year sentence.
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