JACKSON, Miss. – A jury on Thursday convicted reputed Klansman James Ford Seale of kidnapping and conspiracy in the 1964 deaths of two black teenagers in southwest Mississippi, grisly drownings that went unpunished before federal prosecutors re-examined the forgotten case.
Seale, 71, faces life in prison in the deaths of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee. The 19-year-olds disappeared from Franklin County on May 2, 1964, and their bodies were found later in the Mississippi River.
“I thank the Lord that we got justice,” Dee’s older sister, Thelma Collins of Springfield, La., said outside the courthouse.
Seale sat stone-faced as the verdict was read and showed no emotion as marshals led him out of the courtroom. Seale was taken back to a county jail north of Jackson, where he has been held since he was arrested. A half dozen of his relatives, including his wife, ran out of the courthouse to a waiting Lexus sport utility vehicle, bumping some reporters in the scramble.
Federal prosecutors indicted Seale in January almost 43 years after the slayings. He is to be sentenced Aug. 24 on two counts of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy.
The prosecution’s star witness was Charles Marcus Edwards, a confessed Klansman. During closing arguments earlier in the day, prosecutors acknowledged they made “a deal with the devil” but said that offering immunity to Edwards to get his testimony against Seale was the only way to get justice.
Edwards testified that he and Seale belonged to the same Klan chapter, or “klavern,” that 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.
“Those two 19-year-old kids had to have been absolutely terrified,” U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton told jurors, who sat quietly.
In its closing arguments, the defense asserted that Seale should be acquitted because the case was based on the word of an “admitted liar.”
The killings of Moore and Dee are among several decades-old civil rights cases reopened by federal investigators. In February federal officials announced they were reopening investigations into about a dozen such cases.
Edgar Ray Killen, an 80-year-old former Ku Klux Klansman, was convicted last June of manslaughter in the killings of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964.