'System failed' in 1964 race killings: FBI director

A Mississippi man is facing a life sentence in the 1964 slayings of two African-American teenagers after a CBC documentary project rekindled interest in the case.

An elderlyMississippi man could spend the rest of his life in prison in connection with the 1964 slayings of two African-American teenagers afterinterestin thecold case wasrekindled by a CBC documentary maker andone ofthe victim'sbrothers.

James Ford Seale, a 71-year-old reputed Ku Klux Klansman, is escorted from the federal courthouse in Jackson, Miss., on Thursday. Seale pleaded not guilty to federal kidnapping charges tied to the 1964 slayings of two black teenagers. ((Associated Press/Rogelio V. Solis))
James Ford Seale,71,a reputed Ku Klux Klansman and former sheriff's deputy previously believed to be dead,pleaded not guilty Thursdayin the federal courthouse in Jackson.

Seale faces two counts of kidnappingand one count of conspiracy to commitkidnapping in the case of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, both 19,Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Thursdayin Washington.

Each count carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

In a news conference attended by Moore's brother Thomas Moore and Dee's sister Thelma Collins, Gonzales said the case was "a painful reminder of a terrible time in our country."

Gonzales wouldn't comment on why asecond suspect, church deacon and reputed KKK member Charles Marcus Edwards, now 72, was not charged.

FBI Director Robert Mueller acknowledgedthat it took too long for prosecutors to lay charges.

"Forty years ago, the system failed," Mueller said bluntly with Gonzales and Dunn Lampton, the U.S. attorney for southern Mississippi, at his side.

'My son don't have an uncle. I don't have a brother'

Moore, who joined CBC documentary filmmaker DavidRidgen on seven journeys toMississippi,said hecried tears ofjoy when he heardSeale was in custody, butstill struggles withhis brother's death.

Thomas Moore and CBC documentary filmmaker David Ridgen discovered James Ford Seale, the suspect in Moore's brother's slaying, was still alive in Mississippi. ((CBC))

"I will continue to feel bad," Moore said after the news conference. "My son don't have an uncle. I don't have a brother to call. So I've struggled for 42 years."

Collins said she didn't think she would live tosee progressin her brother's case.

"I thank the Lord that I got to see it at my age," she said. "I'm 70 years old. I did see some good come of it."

For years, Seale's family told reporters that he had died. But in July2005, Moore andRidgen found Seale alive and residing a fewkilometres from where the kidnapping took place.

"When I first met Thomas Moore, heknew more about the case than I did,"said Lampton, who headed the task forcelaunched after the discovery.

"We thought that there was nothing we could do with it."

On May 2, 1964, Moore and Dee, both 19, disappeared whilehitchhiking near Meadville, in southwestern Mississippi.

According to the FBI, they were interrogated 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, wherethey drowned.

Theirmangled torsos were discovered 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.

Those three bodies were found in Mississippi a short time later, and the case was made famous in the 1988 film Mississippi Burning.

Case never went to trial

Seale, then 28, and Edwards, then 31, were arrested in the original investigation, but released soon thereafter on a $5,000 bond. No grand jury or trial was ever held.

FBI documents allege Edwards admitted that he and Seale picked up Moore —who was on his way home after being expelled from Alcorn A&M University for taking part in a student protest — and Dee, who worked at a lumberyard.

According to the documents, Edwardssaid he and Seale took the two men to a wooded area, where they were whipped with beanpoles and interrogated.Edwards insisted that when he left, the two men were still alive.

He later denied making the statement. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The FBI turned over Edwards' statement and other files on the investigation to local authorities, and a justice of the peace dismissed all charges.

Gonzales said Seale was not charged with murder because prosecutors examined the evidence and determined a murder case would be too difficult to prove.

"These are very difficult cases to make," Gonzales said, citing the death of witnesses and oldevidence that is no longer available.

TheJustice Department was slow to act on evidence and pursue those responsible for the crime,according to Jerry Mitchell,an investigative reporter for the Jackson newspaper the Clarion-Ledger who hasworked onthe case and numerous other civil-rights slayings.

"It could have been done years ago," Mitchell told CBC News Thursday.

With files from the Associated Press