Judge allows most of prosecutors’ suggestions on juror questionnaire

Published 10:55 pm Saturday, April 21, 2007

Have you or your relatives ever been a member of or given money to the Ku Klux Klan?

Do you think there should be a holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.?

Do you agree with school integration? How about interracial relationships?

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Do you worship with or live near people of other races?

Those are some of the questions potential jurors will be asked, in writing, before they arrive at the federal courthouse in Jackson for the May 29 trial of James Ford Seale.

The 71-year-old reputed Klansman has pleaded not guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy charges connected to the May 2, 1964, slayings of two black teenagers, Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore, in southwest Mississippi.

This the latest of several civil rights-era cases that state and federal prosecutors have reopened across the South in the past dozen years.

Seale was indicted in January and arrested at his home in the tiny town of Roxie. He is in the Madison County Jail outside Jackson while awaiting trial.

U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate on Friday conducted a teleconference with prosecutors and defense attorneys to put the final touches on a questionnaire that prosecutors say is designed to reveal attitudes about race.

Copies of the questionnaire are being mailed to 300 potential jurors in 45 counties in central and south Mississippi. Wingate said they will go out as soon as they’re printed. The federal court’s Southern District covers most of the state south of Holmes and Noxubee counties. The questionnaires are to be filled out and returned by May 10.

Prosecutors requested the questionnaire. Wingate granted the request on April 12, then compiled the form based on suggested questions from prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The teleconference showed that prosecutors got most of what they wanted on the questionnaire.

Assistant Public Defender Kathy Nester objected to several of the questions, saying they were “turning the case into a case about race relations.”

Paige Fitzgerald, a U.S. Justice Department attorney, said race is inherently a part of the case because it involves Klan violence.

Nester said it’s wrong to ask potential jurors whether they’ve seen a documentary about the 1963 church bombing that killed four girls in Birmingham, Ala.

“The inference is that my client should be blamed for that before (jurors) even get to the courthouse,” Nester said.

Wingate responded: “I don’t know how that’s an inference.”

The form also asks whether potential jurors have seen other movies or read several books related to race and civil-rights history.

Seale waived his right to appear in court for Friday’s teleconference.

FBI reports say Dee and Moore, both 19, were hitchhiking when they were grabbed and beaten by Klansmen, then thrown in the Mississippi River to drown.

Seale and reputed KKK member Charles Marcus Edwards were arrested in the summer of 1964 in the deaths of Dee and Moore. But the FBI — consumed by the search for three civil rights workers who disappeared in Neshoba County in June 1964 — turned the case over to local authorities, who threw out all charges.

The Justice Department in 2000 reopened an investigation of the Dee and Moore slayings. The FBI has said the case was closed in 2003 and opened again in 2005.