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Man pleads not guilty in 1964 slayings of 2 blacks

January 26, 2007|From the Associated Press

JACKSON, MISS. — A reputed Ku Klux Klansman accused in the 1964 slayings of two black men pleaded not guilty Thursday, and in a measure of how times have changed in the South, the judge before whom he stood was a black woman.

With his wrists and ankles shackled, James Ford Seale, 71, repeatedly addressed the judge as "ma'am," a social courtesy typically denied to blacks in Mississippi 43 years ago.

Seale was arrested Wednesday on federal charges of kidnapping and conspiracy. Prosecutors said Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, both 19, were seized and beaten by Klansmen, then thrown into the Mississippi River to drown.

A second white man long suspected in the attack, Charles Marcus Edwards, 72, has not been charged. He is cooperating with authorities, according to people close to the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Seale and Edwards were arrested in the case in 1964. But the FBI -- consumed by the search for three missing civil rights workers -- turned the case over to local authorities, who promptly threw out all charges.

The U.S. Justice Department reopened the case in 2000.

On Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Linda R. Anderson asked Seale whether he understood the charges, which carry sentences of up to life in prison.

"Yes, ma'am, I think so," Seale said in a calm voice.

His trial is set for April 2.

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