Sat, Jun 16, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Klan `member' guilty of murders

KLAN AGAINST KLANJames Ford Seale, 71, faces a life sentence for the drowning deaths of two teens. Confessed Klansman Charles Marcus Edwards testified against him

AP , JACKSON, Mississippi

A jury convicted a reputed member of the white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan of kidnapping and conspiracy in the 1964 deaths of two black teenagers in southwest Mississippi, grisly drownings that went unpunished before federal prosecutors re-examined the forgotten case.

James Ford Seale, 71, faces life in prison for 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.

"I thank the Lord that we got justice," Dee's older sister, Thelma Collins of Springfield, Louisiana, said outside the courthouse on Thursday.

Jurors deliberated just two hours before convicting Seale on Thursday.

Seale sat stony-faced as the verdict was read and showed no emotion as marshals led him out of the courtroom. He was taken back to a county jail north of Jackson, where he has been held since he was arrested.

Federal prosecutors indicted Seale in January almost 43 years after the slayings. He is to be sentenced on Aug. 24 on two counts of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy.

The prosecution's star witness was Charles Marcus Edwards, a confessed Klansman. During closing arguments earlier in the day, prosecutors acknowledged they made "a deal with the devil" but said that offering immunity to Edwards to get his testimony against Seale was the only way to get justice.

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.

Edwards testified that Dee and Moore were stuffed into the trunk of Seale's Volkswagen and driven to a farm. 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, still alive, into the river.

In its closing arguments, the defense said 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."

Federal prosecutor Paige Fitzgerald disputed Nester's claims that Edwards could not be trusted.

"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.

A retired FBI agent testified that he heard Seale say those words after being arrested on a state murder charge in 1964. That charge was later dropped.

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 was what gave the federal government jurisdiction.

The killings of Moore and Dee are among several decades-old civil rights cases reopened by federal investigators. In February federal officials announced they were reopening investigations into about a dozen such cases.

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