June 6, 2009 / 3:08 AM / 11 years ago

U.S. court rejects Klansman's conviction challenge

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court rejected on Friday a former Ku Klux Klansman’s argument that prosecutors had waited too long to try him on charges of holding two black men at gunpoint while companions beat and killed them in 1964.

James Seale, now in his 70s, was found guilty in 2007 on federal kidnapping and conspiracy charges and sentenced to three life terms in prison.

Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charlie Eddie Moore, who were both 19 at the time of their murders, were kidnapped while hitchhiking in Mississippi. They were taken to a national forest and Seale pointed a shotgun at them while his companions beat them, according to trial evidence.

But a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled in September 2008 the statute of limitations had expired five years after the crimes were committed, and overturned the convictions.

U.S. prosecutors asked the full court to rehear the case, and a divided court upheld the trial court’s decision to deny Seale’s motion to dismiss the indictment, the Justice Department said in a statement.

The appeal will return to the original three-judge panel.

Seale is the only person to be convicted for participating in the kidnapping and murders.

Reporting by Emily Kaiser; editing by Todd Eastham

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