World

Conviction in 1964 Mississippi cold case stands: U.S. appeals court

A reputed Ku Klux Klansman has lost his appeal of a 2007 conviction for his role in the 1964 race slayings of two African-American teenagers, a cold case that was resurrected by a CBC filmmaker and one of the victim's brothers.

Victim's brother hails court's decision as 'great victory,' thanks CBC filmmaker

A reputed Ku Klux Klansman has lost his appeal of a 2007 conviction for his role in the 1964 race slayings of two African-American teenagers, a cold case that was resurrected by a CBC filmmaker and one of the victim's brothers.

James Ford Seale, a 73-year-old reputed Ku Klux Klansman, is seen being escorted from the federal courthouse in Jackson, Miss., in 2007. ((Associated Press/Rogelio V. Solis))
In its decision released Friday, the 18-member U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, based in New Orleans, was evenly divided. The result upholds the initial decision of a U.S. District Court jury to convict James Ford Seale of kidnapping and conspiracy in the May 2, 1964, abductions and killings of Charles Moore and Henry Dee.

Last September, a three-judge 5th Circuit panel agreed with Seale's lawyer that the statute of limitations in the case had expired. But after the entire 5th Circuit bench weighed in, that decision was put on hold so that all the court's judges could hear arguments.

Seale, 73, was given three life terms and has been held at a federal prison in Terra Haute, Ind., during his appeal.

The two 19-year-olds disappeared while hitchhiking in southwestern Mississippi at the height of the civil rights movement. Their mangled, decomposed bodies were found more than two months later in the Mississippi River.

The cold case was revived when David Ridgen, a CBC documentary maker, and one of the victim's brothers, Thomas Moore, tracked down Seale — long believed dead.

Contacted by CBC News on Friday at his home in Colorado Springs, Thomas Moore called the appeal court's decision a "great victory."

"I have believed, eventually, that justice would prevail," he said.

Moore added that he hopes that the ruling rejuvenates investigations and prosecutions of other cold cases from the U.S. civil rights era, and that it gives "a little hope" to the families of other victims.

He also thanked the CBC's Ridgen, who he said "opened the world’s eyes to a lot of stuff that it would never have seen."

He added: "Nobody else did it. The CBC did it."

Victims dumped alive into river

This July 2005 photo shows Thomas Moore at his home in Colorado Springs, Colo., holding a photograph of himself, right, and his younger brother Charles. The small photo was taken in 1964, shortly before Charles Moore and Henry Dee were kidnapped and killed by Ku Klux Klansmen. ((David Ridgen/CBC))
Ridgen met with Moore in 2005 in Colorado, then persuaded him to join him on trips to Mississippi to revisit his brother's murder.

Seale's family had been telling reporters for years that Seale had died. But in July 2005, Moore and Ridgen found Seale living near the site of the kidnapping. Their journey together was captured in Ridgen's award-winning documentary film, Mississippi Cold Case.

The prosecution's star witness during Seale's 2007 trial was a confessed Klansman, Charles Marcus Edwards, who testified he and Seale belonged to the same chapter.

Back in 1964, Seale, then 28, and Edwards, then 31, were arrested in the original investigation. They were later released on a bond and no trial was held.

Federal prosecutors said the case was dropped because local law enforcement officers at the time were in collusion with the Klan.

Edwards was granted immunity for testifying at the trial. He said the two victims were stuffed into the trunk of Seale's Volkswagen and driven to a farm. He testified Seale told him Dee and Moore were attached to weights and dumped alive into the river.

FBI Director Robert Mueller acknowledged that it took too long for prosecutors to lay charges, saying, "the system failed."