Monday, September 03, 2007

Never Too Late For Justice...

3 Life Terms Handed Down In '64 killings

By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS, Associated Press WriterFri Aug 24, 6:26 PM ET

Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee

Reputed Ku Klux Klansman James Ford Seale showed no emotion Friday as he was sentenced to three life terms in prison for his role in the segregation-era abduction and killing of two black teenagers.

Seale, 72, was convicted June 14 on federal charges of kidnapping and conspiracy in the deaths of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, two 19-year-olds who disappeared May 2, 1964. Seale and other Klansman beat them, then dumped them into the Mississippi River still alive, according to testimony.

The young men's decomposing bodies, mostly just skeletal remains, were found more than two months later in a river backwater. No one was ever convicted in the case — until now.

U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate told Seale the crimes for which he was convicted were "horrific" and "unspeakable." Though the crimes occurred 43 years ago, "justice itself is ageless," Wingate said.

The judge denied a defense request to allow Seale go free on bond while his case is appealed; federal public defender Kathy Nester filed a notice of appeal.

"Mr. Seale maintains his innocence to this crime," Nester said.

During the hearing, one of Dee's sisters and Moore's brother talked about how the violent deaths affected them and their families.

"I don't have no hate in my heart, but I'm happy for justice," said Dee's sister Thelma Collins of Springfield, La.

Thomas Moore of Colorado Springs, Colo., read from a prepared statement directed at Seale.

"I hope you perhaps spend the rest of your natural life in prison thinking of what you did to Charles Moore and Henry Dee and how you ran for a long time but you got caught," he said. "I hope the spirit of Charles and Henry come to your cell every night and visit with you to teach you what is meant by love of your fellow man."

Both of the relatives stood about 10 feet from Seale, but he never made eye contact with them.

Asked by Wingate whether he had anything to say, Seale — who wore an orange jail jumpsuit and was shackled at his waist, wrists and ankles — stood, shook his head and said, "No."

Wingate agreed to assign Seale to a prison where his health needs can be met. He has cancer, bone spurs and other health problems.

The jury of eight whites and four blacks took two hours in June to reach the unanimous verdicts to convict Seale.

The prosecution's star witness was Charles Marcus Edwards, a confessed Klansman who received immunity from prosecution for his admitted role in the abductions and his testimony.

He testified that Seale and other Klansmen abducted the two teenagers near Meadville, in southwest Mississippi, took them to the nearby Homochitto National Forest and beat them while asking questions about rumors that black people in the area were stockpiling guns. Edwards said that during the beating, the young men said — falsely — that weapons were being stored in a black church, Roxie First Baptist.

Edwards testified that he was absent later, but that Seale told him about how he and other Klansmen bound the teenagers with tape, put them into a car trunk and drove them through part of eastern Louisiana to get to the area where they were dumped, alive, into the river.

Their remains were identified by a few personal trinkets — Charles Eddie Moore's Alcorn A&M College dormitory key, his golden stretch-band wristwatch and a belt buckle with the initial "M," and Dee's waterlogged draft card, which remained in his wallet.

Seale was arrested on a state murder charge in 1964, but the charge was later dropped. Federal prosecutors say the state charges were dropped because local law enforcement officers in 1964 were in collusion with the Klan. Seale denies ever belonging to the Klan.

Federal prosecutors revived the case in 2005, largely at the urging of Thomas Moore, who researched the crime. Except for Edwards, the other people implicated in the crime had died, leaving Seale alone to face prosecution.

"If it hadn't been for Thomas, this case never would've seen the light of day," said U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton.

The case was among more than a dozen unsolved, civil rights-era crimes that state and federal prosecutors across the South have revived since the early 1990s.

Wan J. Kim, head of the Justice Department's civil rights division, said during a news conference after the sentencing that the FBI has compiled a list of more than 100 unsolved cases.

Kim — who announced his resignation Thursday — said the Justice Department will pursue those cases, regardless of whether the Senate approves a cold-cases bill that would give the department more resources. A bill has passed the House and awaits Senate consideration.

Kim cautioned, however, that reviving decades-old cases can be difficult.

"While our commitment, our desire and our energy are manifest and there, we need to lower expectations because these are tough, tough cases to put together," Kim said. "And in many, many instances, because of the laws that existed at the time, there will not be federal jurisdiction for many of these offenses. We know that. But that doesn't mean we're not trying."

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