Reputed Klansman gets 3 life terms for 1964 U.S. race slayings

A reputed Ku Klux Klansman was sentenced Friday to three life terms for his role in the 1964 race slayings of two African-American teenagers in Mississippi.

A judge in Mississippi sentenced areputed Ku Klux Klansman Friday to three life terms 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, 72, was convicted in June on federal charges of kidnapping and conspiracy in the deaths of Charles Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee. Each count carried a maximum sentence of life in prison.
A Madison County Sheriff's Department deputy, right, escorts reputed Ku Klux Klansman James Ford Seale to the federal courthouse in Jackson, Miss., on Friday. ((Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press))

Author Harry MacLean, who was in the packedJackson, Miss., courtroom when the sentence was handed down, said U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate said Seale had committed an unspeakable crime and that the only suitable punishment was a life sentence.

Wingate said he would recommend Seale — who has emphysema, kidney cancer, bone spurs on his spine and leg stints — serve his sentence in a medical facilty.

"Even the defence counsel was saying he doesn't have long to go here. He's probably going into prison to die," said MacLean.

Had bulletproof vest on

Deputies escortedSeale in a bulletproof vest and shackles into court Friday morningfor the sentencing hearing.

The charges came after interest in the case was rekindled when the CBC's David Ridgen and Charles Moore's brother, Thomas Moore, tracked down Seale — who had long been believed to be dead — living near where the two teenagers disappeared while hitchhiking on May 2, 1964.

When charges against Seale were laid in January, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Seale was not charged with murder because prosecutors examined the evidence and determined a murder case would be too difficult to prove.

According to the FBI, Charles Moore and his friend Dee were questioned by Seale and others 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 during the search for Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney — three civil rights workers who disappeared on June 21 the same year.

Thomas Moore, left, brother of Charles Moore, stands with CBC documentary filmmaker David Ridgen in Jackson, Miss., in June, just moments after a jury found Seale guilty. ((The Clarion-Ledger/Vickie D. King/Associated Press))

In 1964, 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.

Edwards had lied for decades about his involvement, but granted immunity, he testified at Seale's trial that Dee and Moore were stuffed, alive, into the trunk of Seale's Volkswagen and driven to a farm.

Edwards said Seale told him later that Dee and Moore were attached to heavy weights and dumped alive into the river.

During Seale's trial earlier this year,Edwards, a church deacon, then stunned the courtroom when he asked for forgiveness from the victims' families, which he repeated personally to Moore in an emotional meeting in a hotel hallway.

The victims' families have said they forgive Edwards and would forgive Seale if he asked, said MacLean. Seale maintains his innocence.