Klansman testifies he feared defendant in revived ’64 case

Published 3:52 pm Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A confessed Ku Klux Klansman testified Monday that he believed he’d end up “a dead man” if he told authorities about the secretive group’s activities, including the abduction, beating and drowning of two black teenagers in 1964.

Now granted immunity from prosecution, Charles Marcus Edwards is the government’s star witness in the federal kidnapping and conspiracy case against his longtime friend James Ford Seale. Edwards said he honored the Klan’s oath of secrecy for decades because he feared reprisals from Seale and other Klan members.

Edwards testified that he and Seale were in the same Klan chapter, or “klavern,” led by Seale’s father, Clyde Seale, who is now dead. Edwards also testified that he and the Seales were among the Klansman who attacked Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore on May 2, 1964.

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Dee and Moore, both 19, were abducted near Meadville and beaten in the Homochitto National Forest. Parts of their badly decomposed bodies were found more than two months later and more than 70 miles away in a Mississippi River backwater south of Vicksburg.

James Ford Seale, now 71, has pleaded not guilty to the charges tied to the attacks. He also has denied belonging to the Klan, and he sat stone-faced as Edwards spoke in the courtroom.

Edwards first started testifying last Tuesday. He said last week that the Klan oath of “Christian militancy” includes a pledge not to reveal information about other members or about the Klan’s activities.

When he was called back to the witness stand for follow-up questions Monday, federal prosecutor Paige Fitzgerald asked if he had told the FBI in the 1960s that he wouldn’t give investigators any information about the Seale family if he had it.

“Were you afraid of the Seales?” Fitzgerald asked.

Edwards responded: “In 1964 I was.”

James Ford Seale and Edwards were among several suspected Klan members who in 1966 were issued subpoenas to testify in Congress before the House Un-American Activities Committee. They took the Fifth Amendment and did not reveal any information.

The trial enters its seventh day of testimony Tuesday afternoon.

Seale will not testify in his own defense, his court-appointed attorneys say. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.

The jurors — eight white and four black — could start deliberating by midweek. Three white alternates also have been hearing the case, but will be sent home unless one of the regular jurors can’t take part in deciding a verdict.

When Edwards was on the witness stand but the jury was out of the room last week, he apologized to the families of Dee and Moore and asked their forgiveness.

On Monday, Thomas Moore of Colorado Springs, Colo., said on the witness stand — but also when jurors were out of the room — that he spoke to Edwards last week.

“I told him when I saw him at the hotel that I accepted his apology,” said Thomas Moore, who had pushed investigators to reopen the cold case.

The only other witness to testify Monday was T.J. Sypnewski, a Jackson-based FBI agent who administered a polygraph, or lie detector, test to Edwards on Nov. 3, 2006.

Sypnewski testified that Edwards initially failed two questions on the test. One was whether he knew who threw Dee and Moore into the river. The other was whether he knew what Seale did to Dee and Moore that day.

After Edwards was told he had failed on those two questions, he spoke to Sypnewski for about 45 minutes and then gave a handwritten statement that said Seale was involved, the agent testified.

Edwards testified last week that Seale pointed a sawed-off shotgun at Dee and Moore while Klansmen beat them in a remote part of the Homochitto National Forest. He also said that Seale talked weeks later about helping dump the young men the water.

Defense attorney Kathy Nester repeatedly challenged statements Edwards had given to law enforcement officers and in news accounts over the past four decades.