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Reputed Klansman sentenced

Seale gets 3 life terms for his role in the 1964 killings of 2 black teens.

August 25, 2007|Jenny Jarvie | Times Staff Writer

A 72-year-old former cropduster was sentenced Friday in Jackson, Miss., to three life terms in prison for his role in the 1964 killings of two black teenagers.

James Ford Seale, who prosecutors said was a Ku Klux Klansman, was convicted in June on federal charges of kidnapping and conspiracy in the deaths of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, both 19, who disappeared while hitchhiking in Mississippi.

"Justice itself is ageless," U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate said before sentencing Seale, reported the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. "The pulse of this community still throbs with sorrow."

Seale's attorney, Kathryn N. Nester, has filed a notice saying Seale will appeal. The judge has said he would consider a request that Seale, who has cancer, be allowed to serve his sentence at a prison medical facility.

Moore and Dee disappeared from Franklin County on May 2, 1964. Two months later, their bodies were discovered in the backwaters of the Mississippi River during a search for three missing civil rights workers. Moore and Dee's case received scant media attention compared with the civil rights workers' case, but the FBI proceeded with an investigation nonetheless, arresting Seale, of Roxie, Miss., and Charles Marcus Edwards in November 1964.

Local authorities, however, never prosecuted the case.

When the case came to trial this year, Edwards, an admitted Klansman, was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony. He testified that Seale and other Klansmen abducted the teenagers, tied them to trees and beat them at gunpoint in the Homochitto National Forest. They then drove across the Louisiana line, attached weights to the young men and dumped them alive into the river.

It was the 23rd case from the civil rights era that has been prosecuted since 1989, when federal authorities opened the 1963 slaying of Mississippi's first NAACP field secretary, Medgar Evers.

The 1964 triple slaying of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner was another of those prosecuted; Edgar Ray Killen was convicted in 2005 of manslaughter in their deaths.

Investigations into about 100 civil rights-era cases from the South have been reopened in recent years by federal and state officials. A bill that would set up a cold-case unit with the Justice Department to pursue unresolved cases from that era stalled in Congress this year.

At a Jackson news conference after Seale's sentencing, U.S. Assistant Atty. Gen. Wan J. Kim said the Justice Department would not wait for the measure to pass before investigating such cases.

U.S. Atty. Dunn Lampton, who opened the case against Seale, said he felt privileged to pursue justice on behalf of Moore's and Dee's families, particularly when it came so many decades after the slayings.

"It's one thing for Mississippi to say, 'We changed,' and it's another thing to prove it," he said. "These men were brutally and sadistically murdered for no reason and, finally, after 43 years, their relatives have closure and justice. Times in Mississippi have changed."

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