Reputed Klansman fights to keep statement out of court

Published 6:53 pm Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Federal prosecutors said they would call at least four witnesses Tuesday to testify during pretrial hearings in the case of reputed Klansman James Ford Seale.

U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate will weigh the testimony when considering outstanding motions in the case, including a motion to dismiss for alleged violations of due process and a request for the identities of confidential informants.

On Wednesday, a retired FBI agent testified that Seale said “yes” in 1964 when pressed to admit he was involved in the racially motivated crime.

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Seale’s defense team wants to suppress that statement when the decades-old case goes to trial May 29.

Seale, shackled and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit Wednesday, watched intently as retired FBI agent Edward Putz recalled their first meeting — an early morning arrest followed by a two-hour drive from the rural Roxie community to a Jackson jail on Nov. 6, 1964.

Putz testified that Seale and four lawmen were in the car when another agent told Seale: “We know you did it, you know you did it, and the Lord above knows you did it.”

“Seale answered ’yes,”’ Putz said. “His exact words were, ‘I’m not going to admit it. You have to prove it.’”

Seale is charged with two counts of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy in the deaths of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, both 19. The two were abducted and beaten on May 2, 1964, then tied to motor parts and thrown in the Mississippi River to drown.

At the time, the FBI was consumed by the much more highly publicized search for three civil rights workers in Neshoba County and turned the Seale case over to local authorities. The charges were thrown out.

Now, federal public defender Kathryn N. Nester is trying to keep Seale’s alleged statements from 43 years ago from being used against him.

She told the court the statements could have been coerced. Jack Davis, a former constable and Seale friend, was called to testify that he saw bruises on Seale in 1964 that were allegedly inflicted by arresting officers.

Davis, 80, testified that Seale told him the agents were sitting on either side of Seale in back seat of the car and hit him with elbows when he refused to answer questions.

“I asked him, ‘Why didn’t you knock the hell out them?’” Davis said. “And he said, ‘I couldn’t because I had handcuffs on.’”

Prosecutors deny Seale was assaulted during his arrest. Also, they tried to undermine Davis’ credibility by pointing out that he was part of a segregationist group known as Americans for the Preservation of the White Race. They also allege that Davis’ father used Klan funds to bail Seale out of jail.

A key issue over whether the statement will be allowed could be a matter of case law and if law enforcement officers were required to inform suspects of their rights in 1964. Miranda warnings were not made mandatory until 1966, two years after Seale’s first arrest.

“Seale was not entitled to those warnings under the law as it was written in 1964,” said Eric Gibson, a federal prosecutor. “Miranda does not apply retroactively.”