Defense wants new judge in kidnapping case of reputed Klansman in 1964 case

Published 11:14 pm Saturday, March 3, 2007

Federal public defenders want a new judge assigned to the case against a reputed Ku Klux Klansman charged with kidnapping in the 1964 slayings of two black men.

Federal Public Defender Dennis Joiner said in a motion filed Friday that U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate and U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Anderson should step down from the case because they have a prior association with the U.S. attorney’s office. Wingate and Anderson are former federal prosecutors.

Anderson was on the U.S. attorney’s staff when the Seale investigation began, Joiner said. Wingate has been on the federal bench since 1985.

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In January, James Ford Seale, 71, of Roxie, pleaded innocent to the federal kidnapping and conspiracy charges in connection with the May 2, 1964, abduction of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore, reportedly by Klansmen. The teenagers were hitchhiking in Meadville when they were grabbed and beaten before being drowned in the Mississippi River, according to FBI reports.

Seale faces an April 2 trial. If convicted, he could receive life in prison. Seale is being held in the Madison County Jail.

Also in Friday’s motion, Joiner alleged that U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton manipulated the system to get the case assigned to Anderson and Wingate.

“The U.S. Attorney has had the sole ability to select which specific district court judge he wants to sit on any criminal case in the Jackson Division,” Joiner wrote. “He does this by asking the grand jury to return an indictment during a month assigned to a particular judge.”

Joiner filed with his motion a document dated July 25 that showed the case then as being in the Western Division of the U.S. District Court. By rule, all Western Division cases are assigned to U.S. District Judge David Bramlette, Joiner said.

Documents also show the case was originally assigned to U.S. Magistrate James Sumner, Joiner said.

“There has been no order entered in the record transferring the case from Judge Wingate to another district court judge, nor has there been any order transferring the case from James C. Sumner to another magistrate judge,” Joiner said.

Lampton said Friday that he doesn’t know why the case was moved from Sumner to Anderson and that he had nothing to do with that switch. He said there’s nothing improper with the way his office has handled the case.

In documents filed Friday in the case by the U.S. attorney’s office, government lawyers confirmed that Charles Marcus Edwards would be a prosecution witness against Seale.

Edwards, 72, has not been charged in the case.

Seale and Edwards were arrested in the case in 1964.The FBI, consumed by the search for three civil rights workers who had disappeared that summer, turned the case over to local authorities, who promptly threw out all charges.

Lampton also asked Wingate to close the court to the public during the final phases of jury selection and keep the names of jurors secret. Lampton said the case had been the subject of extensive news coverage and the selection of jury should be held out of such limelight.

Prosecutors also want the jury sequestered for the duration of the trial.

“The publicity this case is expected to generate is a substantial factor,” the government said in its motion. “Jurors should not fear being named in the press or being contacted by the press about their participation in this case … Obviously, this type of publicity may intimidate jurors and may have other negative ramifications.”

Wingate had not ruled on any of the motions by Friday, according to court records.