Civil Rights Era case against reputed Klansman wrapping up, defendant won't testify
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- Jurors deciding the case of a reputed Klu Klux Klansman will have to decide without hearing from him whether he took part in the deadly attacks of two black teenagers in the Jim Crow-era.
Attorneys for James Ford Seale, 71, said he will not testify in his own defense in the case, expected to wrap up this week.
Seale has pleaded not guilty to federal kidnapping and conspiracy charges in the 1964 attacks on Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore in rural southwest Mississippi. If convicted, Seale faces up to life in prison.
Confessed Klansman Charles Marcus Edwards testified that he and Seale -- along with other KKK members in a chapter or "klavern" led by Seale's late father -- took part in abducting the 19-year-olds.
Edwards, a longtime friend of Seale, was granted immunity from prosecution. He testified that Seale pointed a sawed-off shotgun at Dee and Moore while Klansmen beat them in a remote part of the Homochitto National Forest.
He said Seale talked weeks later about helping dump the young men in a Mississippi River backwater south of Vicksburg. Seale put duct tape on Dee and Moore, put them in a plastic-lined trunk, and with other Klansmen took them across the border into Louisiana, where they were dumped into the river still alive, Edwards testified.
Defense attorney Kathy Nester repeatedly challenged statements Edwards has given to law enforcement officers and made in news accounts over the past four decades.
"Frankly, every time he has ever told this story, he has told it differently," Nester told U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate.
Defense attorneys say that for Seale to be convicted of kidnapping, prosecutors must convince jurors that Dee and Moore were alive when they were taken into Louisiana.
Monday will mark the sixth day of testimony. Wingate is expected to rule on prosecutors' request to use statements from now-dead Klansman Ernest Gilbert, who became an FBI informant and gave information that led to the discovery of body parts and other evidence in the killings of Dee and Moore.
Wingate ruled earlier that Gilbert's statements couldn't be used, but prosecutors now say defense attorneys alluded to the statements during their cross-examination of Edwards.
Edwards is scheduled to finish his testimony Monday. In previous news accounts, Edwards was reported to be a cousin of Seale's. At the request of The Associated Press, Nester checked with Seale's relatives Friday and said there is no blood relationship between the men.
Prosecutors plan to call three or four other witnesses, and defense attorneys plan to call seven. The jury could start deliberating by midweek. There are eight white and four black jurors. Three white alternates also have been hearing the case.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)