Judge: Kidnapping charges stand against reputed Klansman

Published 5:18 pm Friday, February 23, 2007

A federal judge refused Thursday to dismiss kidnapping charges against reputed Ku Klux Klansman James Ford Seale in the 1964 slayings of two black men in Mississippi.

U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate also denied a request to let Seale, 71, out on bond.

Seale’s wife, Jean, testified at Thursday’s hearing that her husband has not been receiving proper medical care while in jail.

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“They didn’t give him the right kind of medication,” she said. “They haven’t taken him to his medical appointments.”

She said her husband suffers from bladder cancer, among several other ailments, and was supposed to get a CAT scan earlier this month because doctors are worried about an aneurism. She had said earlier her husband is under the care of five doctors and has problems with his left leg from having had polio earlier in life.

Wingate said Jean Seale’s testimony provided “no proof” that Seale was not getting proper medical attention in jail.

Seale was arrested Jan. 24 at the home of a family member where he was living in a recreational vehicle in the southwest Mississippi town of Roxie. He pleaded not guilty the next day to two counts of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy. He has been held without bond since then in the Madison County jail outside Jackson.

Kathy Nester, one of Seale’s federal public defenders, said Seale should be granted bail because he poses no risk to the community and doesn’t have the financial means to flee.

Nester argued that the government allowed Seale to live among the members of his community for nearly four decades without charging him with a crime “but now they’ve decided he’s so dangerous that he can’t be among us.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paige Fitzgerald, however, said the fact that Seale knows he could spend the rest of his life behind bars is the “ultimate impetus to flee.”

Seale could be sentenced to up to life in prison if convicted in the case tied to the deaths of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee.

Prosecutors said Moore and Dee were seized and beaten by Klansmen, then weighted down and thrown into the Mississippi River to drown.

Public Defender Dennis Joiner asked Wingate to throw out the charges because the statute of limitations had passed.

Joiner claimed when Congress in 1972 repealed a law that made kidnapping a capital offense, kidnapping became subject to a five-year statute of limitations.

However, Fitzgerald said the 1972 repeal did not apply retroactively, and there was no statute of limitations when the crimes were committed in 1964.

“The defendant is trying to draw a distinction between murder cases and a kidnapping case,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s simply a distinction without a difference.”

Seale, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and wearing wire-rim glasses and shackles, showed little reaction when Wingate issued his ruling.

Joiner observed that Seale was “pretty stoic.”

“I couldn’t see he had any reaction,” he said after the hearing.

Seale and reputed KKK member Charles Marcus Edwards were arrested in 1964. But the FBI — consumed by the search for three civil rights workers who had disappeared from east central Mississippi’s Neshoba County that summer — turned the case over to local authorities, who promptly threw out all charges.

The Justice Department in 2000 reopened the investigation into the slayings of Moore and Dee. There was little movement in the case for several years until Moore’s brother, Thomas Moore, and Canadian documentary filmmaker David Ridgen began their own investigation.

For years, Seale’s family told reporters that he had died. In 2005, Thomas Moore and Ridgen found Seale living a few miles from where the kidnapping took place.