U.S. News

Ex-Klansman found guilty in Mississippi killings

JACKSON, Mississippi (Reuters) - A former Ku Klux Klansman was found guilty of kidnapping on Thursday in the 1964 killings of two black men in Mississippi, a case that highlighted white supremacist violence during the civil rights era.

A federal jury deliberated just two hours before convicting James Seale, who was also charged with conspiracy in the killings of 19-year-old Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore who were kidnapped while hitchhiking.

According to the indictment and testimony, they were taken to a national forest and Seale trained a shotgun on the teenagers while his companions beat them.

They then stuffed Dee and Moore into the trunk of a car, drove them to an offshoot of the Mississippi River, attached heavy weights to them and threw them alive into the water from a boat, prosecutors said.

The jury made clear neither of the kidnapped men was “returned unharmed,” a statement that may increase a sentence whose maximum amounts to a life term on each count.

As the verdict was delivered, Seale, 71, turned to his wife, Jean, and whispered, “Are you OK?” Relatives of Dee and Moore, who had waited decades for justice, hugged each other and cried.

“I’m rejoicing for justice in this country. I see them (Dee and Moore) as rejoicing in heaven right now. Mississippi spoke today,” said Thomas Moore, Charles’ elder brother who worked for years to bring the case to court.

“Today’s conviction of James Ford Seale brings some long overdue justice to the families of Henry Dee and Charles Moore, who were brutally murdered more than 40 years ago,” U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in a statement.

The main prosecution witness, another former Klansman who was granted immunity, testified during the trial that Seale told him he had killed Dee and Moore.

The trial was the latest brought by federal prosecutors in an attempt to clear up crimes during the 1950s and 1960s by white supremacists who aimed to terrify the black community into not supporting a campaign for civil and voting rights for African-Americans in the racially segregated South.

In many cases, the Ku Klux Klan and other groups were able to operate with impunity because they were supported by local law enforcement and judicial authorities.

By the same token, black Americans had few legal protections, and crimes against them often attracted little publicity.

The bodies of Dee and Moore were only recovered during a high-profile search for three civil rights activists later that year whose deaths generated widespread revulsion at the racial violence in Mississippi.

In 2005, a Mississippi jury convicted Klansman Edgar Ray Killen of three counts of manslaughter in those murders, which formed the basis of the 1988 film “Mississippi Burning.”