Seale opposes government request to close jury selection

Published 6:41 pm Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Defense attorneys for a reputed Ku Klux Klansman charged with kidnapping in the 1964 slayings of two black men are opposing the government’s efforts to keep jury selection secret and to sequester jurors during trial.

Dennis Joiner, one of James Ford Seale’s federal public defenders, filed a response this past week to the government’s motions that potential jurors be questioned individually, that the final phases of jury selection should be closed to the public, that jurors names be kept secret and the jury should be sequestered.

In January, 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.

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

U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate has yet to rule on any of the motions filed in the case. Wingate has scheduled a motions hearing for 8:30 a.m. on March 22 in Jackson.

In its motion, the government said the Seale 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.”

The U.S. attorney’s office also said existing elements of the KKK might try to intimidate jurors if their names were known.

Joiner said the publicity surrounding the Seale case can be traced back to the government.

“The government wants Mr. Seale’s guilt to be established both through use of the media as a tool, and by use of extraordinary procedural measures to amplify the ’mystique’ of this trial.

“The KKK is no longer a threatening or viable instrument of terror in Mississippi, and although racism admittedly still exists to a degree in Mississippi and elsewhere in the United States, the racial climate here comes nowhere close to the adverse climate that existed 43 years ago when this crime was committed,” Joiner said in the motion.

Joiner said the current social climate in Mississippi does not warrant the “extreme measures” sought by the government.

“If such measures are employed, the jury, for whatever reasons, could draw the wrong inferences from the court’s magnification of this case. Such would violate Mr. Seale’s constitutional right to a fair trial,” Joiner said.

The government had not responded to Seale as of Tuesday.