Reputed Klansman convicted in '64 case
6/14/07 - By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS, Associated Press Writer
A deputy marshal looks toward a parking lot as he and a Madison
County Sheriff's deputy, left, escort reputed Klansman James Ford Seale through
the loading dock of the federal courthouse in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, June 14,
2007. Seale attended the closing arguments at his federal trial for kidnapping
and conspiracy charges connected to the 1964 slayings of two black teenagers in
southwest Mississippi. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)37klan06154
A federal jury on Thursday convicted reputed Klansman James Ford Seale of kidnapping and conspiracy in the 1964 deaths of two black teenagers in southwest Mississippi.
Seale, 71, had pleaded not guilty to charges related to the deaths of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee. The 19-year-olds disappeared from Franklin County on May 2, 1964, and their bodies were found later in the Mississippi River.
Federal prosecutors indicted Seale in January almost 43 years after the slayings.
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Jurors began deliberating Thursday in the federal kidnapping and conspiracy trail of a reputed Klansman accused of participating in the 1964 slayings of two black teenagers.
During closing arguments earlier in the day, prosecutors acknowledged they made "a deal with the devil" but said that offering immunity to a Klansman to get his testimony against James Ford Seale was the only way to get justice.
U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton summarized the evidence against James Ford Seale, who is being tried on charges of conspiracy and kidnapping related to the 1964 deaths of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee. The 19-year-olds disappeared on May 2, 1964, and their bodies were found later in the Mississippi River.
If Seale, 71, is convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.
Prosecutors offered immunity to Charles Marcus Edwards, a confessed Klansman, as "the only way to get this case to a jury and get some justice for these two young men who were sadistically killed," Lampton said.
Edwards testified that he and Seale belonged to the same Klan chapter, or "klavern," that was led by Seale's father. Seale has denied he belonged to the Klan.
In its closing arguments, the defense asserted that Seale should be acquitted because the case was based on the word of an "admitted liar."
"This case all comes down to the word of one man, an admitted liar, a man out to save his own skin," federal public defender Kathy Nester said. "A case based on his word is no case at all."
The government brought the case only as a symbol that Mississippi is trying to reconcile its racist past, Nester said.
"You are not called up to fix all that was wrong in this state in 1964," she said, adding that justice means more than righting the wrongs of the past.
Everyone deserves justice, she said, including Seale and other "people who don't look like us, who don't thinks like us, who have life experiences that we don't understand, who anger us, who offend us."
In the final part of closing arguments, federal prosecutor Paige Fitzgerald rebutted Nester's claims that Edwards could not be trusted. Fitzgerald also suggested that Seale's own words incriminated him.
"Let me tell you about one man's word. 'Yes. But I'm not going to admit it. You're going to have to prove it,'" Fitzgerald said, repeating a statement that a retired FBI agent testified he heard Seale make after being arrested on a state murder charge in 1964. That charge was later dropped.
"Those are the words of a guilty man," Fitzgerald said, turning to point at Seale in the courtroom. She also called Seale "defiant, arrogant and unrepentant."
The defense claimed that the prosecution failed to prove key elements needed for conviction and didn't establish that Seale had crossed state lines while committing a crime, which is vital because that's what gives the federal government jurisdiction.
Seale, who is hard of hearing, had been listening to testimony with the aid of earphones. He took them off during Lampton's hour-long closing argument. Lampton described for the jury how Dee and Moore were hitchhiking, stopped by Klansmen and taken to a forest where they were beaten. Klansmen were trying to find out if blacks were bringing firearms into Franklin County, Lampton said.
"Henry Dee and Charles Moore didn't know ... why they had been singled out and brought back in the forest," Lampton said.
Edwards testified that Dee and Moore were stuffed, alive, into the trunk of Seale's Volkswagen and driven to a farm owned by Seale's father. They were later tied up and driven across the Mississippi River into Louisiana, Edwards said, and Seale told him that Dee and Moore were attached to heavy weights and dumped alive into the river.
"Those two 19-year-old kids had to have been absolutely terrified," Lampton said as jurors sat quietly.