Reputed Ku Klux Klan member James Ford Seale was convicted in Jackson, Miss.,Thursday of kidnapping and conspiracy in the 1964slayings of two black teenagers in Mississippi.
It took the jury two hours to convict Seale, 71, who was arrested in January and charged with two counts of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping. Each count carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The case of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry HezekiahDee'smurders remained cold for more than 40 years. The charges came after interest in the case was rekindled by David Ridgen, a CBC documentary maker, and one of the victim's brothers, Thomas Moore, who tracked down Seale. Seale had long been believed to be dead.
On May 2, 1964, Moore and Dee, both 19, disappeared while hitchhiking near Meadville, in southwestern Mississippi, at the height of the civil rights movement.
According to the FBI, they were questioned and tortured in a nearby forest, locked in a trunk, driven to Louisiana, chained to a Jeep motor and some train rails, and dropped alive into the Mississippi River, where they drowned.
Their mangled torsos were discovered on July 13, 1964,more than two months later, during the search for Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney — three civil rights workers who disappeared June 21 the same year.
Seale, then 28, and Charles Edwards, then 31, were arrested in the original investigation, but soon released on a $5,000 bond. No grand jury or trial was ever held.
The case of the civil rights workers overshadowed the discovery of the bodies of Moore and Dee, and the case lay dormant for more than 42 years.
In 2005, the CBC's Ridgen tracked down Thomas Moore in Colorado Springs, Colo., and convinced him to accompany him on seven trips to Mississippi to revisit his brother's murder.
For years, Seale's family told reporters that he had died. But in July 2005, Moore and Ridgen found Seale — the main suspect in the deaths of Moore and Dee — alive and residing a few kilometres from the site where the kidnapping took place.
Star witness said he and Seale were Klansmen
The prosecution's star witness was Charles Marcus Edwards, a confessed Klansman who testified that he and Seale belonged to the same Klan chapter, which was led by Seale's father. Seale has denied he belonged to the Klan.
Edwards testified that Dee and Moore were stuffed, alive, 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 alive into the river.
Federal public defender Kathy Nester argued the case was based on the word of an "admitted liar" who was "out to save his own skin."
The prosecution offered Edwards immunity in exchange for his testimony.
Federal prosecutor Paige Fitzgeraldsuggested that Seale's own words incriminated him, referring to a statement that a retired FBI agent testified he heard Seale make after being arrested on a state murder charge in 1964.
"'Yes. But I'm not going to admit it. You're going to have to prove it," Seale allegedly told the agent.
That charge was later dropped.