Seale opposes government using statements of dead Klansman/informant

Published 11:07 pm Saturday, April 28, 2007

Attorneys for reputed Ku Klux Klansman James Ford Seale are opposing the government’s efforts to use statements from a now-deceased KKK informant who gave information to the FBI about the abduction and slaying of two black teenagers in southwest Mississippi.

In a pretrial motion, federal public defender Kathryn N. Nester said the statements the government wants to use from Ernest Gilbert, including transcripts of Gilbert’s 2000 pre-interview and the interview broadcast on the ABC news show “20/20,” are “classic hearsay.”

She said statements allegedly made by Seale and others to Gilbert and compiled by an FBI agent also are inadmissible.

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Nester said Seale would be denied his right to confront his accuser and get a fair trial if the evidence was allowed.

The government, in an earlier motion, said Gilbert, who died in the past few years, was a leader in the Klan but did not take part in the May 2, 1964, kidnapping and killing of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore.

Instead, Gilbert, who was a paid informant, was told details about the crime by other Klan members and he passed that information on to the FBI, leading to the discovery of the bodies of Moore and Dee.

Seale, now 71, has pleaded not guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy charges related to the slayings of Dee and Moore. This is 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 arrested at his home in the tiny town of Roxie in January and is in the Madison County Jail as he awaits his May 29 trial in Jackson federal court.

U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate is set to hear arguments Monday on several pretrial motions, including prosecutors’ request to use Gilbert’s statements.

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

Seale and reputed KKK member Charles Marcus Edwards were arrested that summer in the deaths of Dee and Moore. 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.

The government said Gilbert gave information to the FBI but required that investigators keep his name a secret. The government also said Gilbert refused to testify because he feared for his own safety. Gilbert confirmed in the ABC “20/20” interview that he had given information to the FBI.

The government’s motion said Gilbert told the FBI that Seale and his brother, Jack Seale, were “very active in the Klan” and that Jack Seale had “pledged to eliminate the FBI informant.”

Nester said Gilbert’s appearance on ABC nullified any fear he had of the Klan, because he continued to live openly in the same community without the government’s protection.

Nester said statements made by Gilbert to ABC also differed from what he told the FBI about who was involved in the killings, where the killings occurred and how Dee and Moore were killed.

“To allow such unreliable statements to be presented to the jury without any opportunity for the defendant to impeach the witness on his glaring inconsistencies, his pecuniary interest, his unstable mental health and his motivation to appear in a good light on national television flies in the face of due process and will unquestionably deny the defendant his right to confront his accuser and his right to a fair trial,” Nester said in court documents filed Thursday.