Federal judge denies change of venue for reputed KKK member in Miss. slaying case

Published 5:58 pm Friday, April 6, 2007

A federal judge on Thursday denied defense attorneys’ request to move the trial of a reputed Ku Klux Klansman charged with kidnapping in the 1964 slayings of two black men to another county.

James Ford Seale, 71, had asked to be tried in Natchez, near his southwest Mississippi hometown of Roxie.

U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate said the Jackson area had not been “so saturated with publicity” about the case that Seale could not receive a fair trial.

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Seale and reputed KKK member Charles Marcus Edwards were arrested in 1964 in the deaths of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore, both 19. 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.

The Justice Department reopened the case in 2000, and Seale was arrested in January. He pleaded not guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy charges. Edwards has not been charged.

FBI reports say the men were hitchhiking when they were grabbed and beaten, allegedly by Klansmen, and then thrown in the Mississippi River to drown.

Wingate plans another hearing April 12 to decide whether to allow the use of a detailed questionnaire to screen the racial attitudes of potential jurors.

Prosecutors say the questionnaire would be the best way to ensure candid responses because potential jurors could fill out the form in private.

Defense attorney Kathy Nester said the form is “loaded, loaded with shocking questions” about interracial dating and whether a potential juror has ever given money to white supremacist organizations.

“I don’t know how you could do the questionnaire and not be forever changed as a juror whenever you show up at the courthouse,” Nester said.

Seale remains in jail. Wingate said the trial could be in late May.