The Justice Department is investigating more than 100 cold cases from the civil- rights era like the one that James Ford Seale received three life sentences Friday in connection with - the abducting, beating and drowning of two black teenagers 43 years ago.
The crime is "unspeakable because only monsters could inflict this," U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate told the 72-year-old reputed Klansmen from Roxie in delivering the maximum sentence. "The pulse of this community still throbs with sorrow."
A federal jury in June convicted Seale, a former crop duster, of conspiracy and two counts of kidnapping in the May 2, 1964, slayings of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore. The two 19-year-olds were hitchhiking in Meadville when Klansmen picked them up, took them to a secluded forest, beat them, then hauled them to the Mississippi River, where the teens were bound, weighted down and drowned.
Seale's June 14 conviction was the 23rd since 1989 for crimes from the civil rights era that have been reprosecuted, when authorities reopened the 1963 assassination of Mississippi NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers in Jackson.
At a news conference Friday following Seale's sentencing, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Wan Kim of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said expectations shouldn't be unrealistically raised in the more than 100 killings the department is examining, but they will continue to be looked into, regardless of whether Congress passes a bill that would create a cold cases unit to address these decades-old cases.
Of the more than 100 killings, more than 30 took place in Mississippi, authorities said.
In rendering his judgment, Wingate said he took into account Seale's age and health - he has cancer. "But then I have to look at the crime itself, the horror, the ghastliness of it," the judge said.
While 43 years has passed, "justice itself is ageless," he said.
The judge, however, agreed with the defense's request to recommend to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons that Seale serve his time at a prison medical facility.
Seale's public defender, Kathy Nester, said her client would not comment because he maintains his innocence, is exercising his Fifth Amendment right and will appeal his conviction.
Still, Wingate asked Seale if he wanted to comment. Seale said no, shaking his head.
Seale's wife, Jenny, has complained that her husband hasn't been receiving the cancer treatment he's needed in jail.
He has had cancer in his kidney, bladder and ear, she said. "The doctor said it's the type of cancer that travels to the lymph nodes."
Since 1998, Moore's brother, Thomas Moore of Colorado Springs, Colo., has pushed for justice in the case. On Friday, he got the opportunity to share in court how his life has been affected.
"When you took away Charles Moore, you took away my best friend," Thomas Moore told Seale. "I cried when I thought about how hard they suffered at your hands."
He and his brother grew up so poor they had to share licks of an ice cream cone. He said they shared their hopes of a better life and dreamed of one day building their mother a brick house, "where she could stay warm."
He said Seale had lived comfortably his whole life and then gazed at the elderly man, shackled in chains and dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit. "Look at you now," he said. "I hope you spend the rest of your life in prison."
Noting how some people have said the teens were forgotten, Thomas Moore said, "They were never forgotten. They were always loved and missed. My struggle tomorrow is not the same as today. I did everything I could to bring justice."
He thanked U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton of Jackson for taking up the case, and Lampton praised the FBI, Justice Department and Mississippi Highway Patrol for their assistance.
Dee's sister, Thelma Collins, told the court that her brother's death "hurt us so bad that I had to get a psychologist." But she said she held no hate toward anyone.
At the news conference, both she and Moore urged Congress to pass the cold cases legislation. "It's a must that this bill be passed because other families need hope," Moore said.
Civil rights activist Alvin Sykes of Kansas City, who dreamed up the legislation and has worked on a number of cases, praised Friday's sentence and remarked, "We look forward to the next investigations and prosecutions."
The next trial is slated for 2008 in Selma, Ala., when former Alabama highway patrolman James Bonard Fowler goes on trial for murder in the 1965 shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson. Fowler, who has pleaded not guilty, insists he shot in self-defense.
During Friday's hearing, Nester argued that her client should be given consideration because of his poor health and life expectancy.
Justice Department prosecutor Paige Fitzgerald, however, urged Wingate to impose the stiffest sentence possible - keeping Seale behind bars for the rest of his natural life.
"We will never know what might have become of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, two vibrant and promising young men whose lives were abruptly snuffed out on May 2, 1964," she said. "We will never know what roles they might have played in their communities, what contributions they might have made to their country, what friendships they might have formed, whose lives they might have gone on to influence ...
"We will never know those things because of the venomous hatred of James Ford Seale and his fellow members of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, hatred that spawned a conspiracy and a crime so horrific that the details take the breath away from anyone with a shred of compassion or human decency."
What these Klansmen did went beyond this horrific crime, she said. "They conspired to kidnap the security of an entire community. They kidnapped a community's faith. They drowned a community's belief in our system of justice."
She urged the court to "send the message that justice will come, sometimes only after many, many years, but justice will come."
Saturday, August 25, 2007
from the (Jackson, MS) Clarion-Ledger: "3 life terms for Seale; Dozens of other civil-rights era cases eyed"