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No Civil Rights Probe of 1964 Murder

U.S. finding cites statute of limitations in the case of a black woman shot in Jacksonville, Fla. A former detective alleges evidence was covered up.

March 19, 2003|From Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Federal authorities have decided not to launch a civil rights inquiry into the 1964 slaying of a black housekeeper, saying the statute of limitations has expired.

Justice Department and FBI officials reviewed the case after C. Lee Cody, a former Jacksonville sheriff's detective who investigated the slaying of Johnnie Mae Chappell, wrote President Bush asking for an investigation and grand jury inquiry into his allegations that law enforcement covered up evidence in the murder case.

In a letter to Cody dated March 11, Assistant Atty. Gen. Ralph L. Boyd wrote that the review "has not altered our conclusion that a federal prosecution of the shooting of Mrs. Chappell is precluded by the applicable statute of limitations."

"It's incredulous they can't see the severity of this, the gravity of it," said Cody, who lives in Fernandina Beach.

Shelton Chappell, one of Johnnie Mae Chappell's 10 children, alleged that federal officials were declining to pursue the case "because we are a black family."

"Black folks have been robbed and stepped on since Day One," said Shelton Chappell of Miami. "The system is failing us. It hasn't changed for a poor black man."

Chappell, 35, was walking along a Jacksonville road March 23, 1964, as race riots rocked the city. She was looking for her wallet, which apparently had fallen from a grocery bag, when shots rang out from a blue Plymouth. She was killed in the attack.

Four white men were charged in the murder, but only one was convicted -- on a lesser charge of manslaughter.

The state dropped charges against the other three, citing a lack of evidence, although Cody said two of the men had confessed.

Chappell's son and Cody have long insisted that Jacksonville police covered up evidence, such as the gun that fired the fatal bullet, which disappeared from the police property room.

Cody and his partner, Donald Coleman, were fired after investigating the slaying, when they pressed their superiors about missing reports and evidence.

A civil rights lawsuit filed by Chappell's nine surviving children against the four men and the sheriff's office was dismissed last year but is on appeal with the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

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