Prosecution wraps up case against reputed Klansman in 1964 case

Published 3:34 pm Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Reputed Klansman James Ford Seale made an “admission” to law officers in 1964 that he took part in abducting and killing two black teenagers earlier that year, a retired FBI agent testified Tuesday.

Ed Putz of Miami was the final prosecution witness in the federal kidnapping and conspiracy trial of Seale. Defenders plan to call about a half dozen witnesses, starting Wednesday. Seale’s attorneys say he won’t testify.

Jurors could start deliberating by the end of the week. Seale, 71, faces up to life in prison if convicted.

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He has pleaded not guilty to the current charges, which are tied to the deadly attacks on the two black teenagers, Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore, in southwest Mississippi on May 2, 1964.

Putz testified that he and another FBI agent accompanied two state Highway Patrol officers who arrested Seale on a state murder charge in the deaths of Dee and Moore.

The pre-dawn arrest took place at Seale’s home in Meadville on Nov. 6, 1964. The state charge was later dropped. Federal prosecutor Paige Fitzgerald said the local sheriff at the time was “in collusion with the Klan.”

Putz testified Tuesday that while the four law officers drove Seale back to Jackson after the arrest, a fellow FBI agent, Lenard Wolf said to Seale: “’You didn’t even give them a decent burial. We know you did it. You know you did it. God knows you did it.”’

Putz testified that Seale responded: “‘Yes. I’m not going to admit to it. You’re going to have to prove it.”’

Seale frequently whispered to his public defenders as prosecutors questioned Putz. At one point, Seale took a yellow square of paper, jotted down a note and pushed it into the hand of public defender George Lucas.

During cross examination, Lucas asked whether Seale’s statement could be considered a challenge rather than an admission of guilt.

“It’s an admission,” Putz said firmly.

This is the latest of more than a dozen Jim Crow-era cases that prosecutors have revived across the South since the early 1990s.

U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate on Tuesday rejected a request by Seale’s attorneys to toss out the charges against their client. Among other things, public defender Kathy Nester said Seale’s right to a speedy trial had been violated — an argument Wingate rejected before the trial started.

Fitzgerald said prosecutors have discovered new facts about the case since 2006, when confessed Klansman Charles Marcus Edwards was granted immunity in exchange for testifying against Seale. A federal grand jury indicted Seale in January.

Current FBI agent Mark Stucky, who helped arrest Seale on Jan. 24, 2007, testified that he and other agents went to Seale’s home in the tiny town of Roxie. Stucky said Seale answered the door, and the agents introduced themselves and said they wanted to talk to him about what happened in 1964.

“He tried to close the door and said, ‘I don’t want to talk to you,’” Stucky said.

Seale asked if he was under arrest, Stucky said. The agents said yes, read him his rights and told him some information they knew about the charges against him.

“He kept saying, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’” Stucky said.

Stucky said at one point he told Seale that agents were not there to debate him.

“He said, ‘Well, there’s no point. You know everything anyway,’” Stucky said.

Defense attorney Kathy Nester asked Stucky whether Seale was being sarcastic. Stucky said he didn’t know if he was being sarcastic or making a confession. He just thought Seale was making a statement.

Another retired FBI agent, Jim Ingram, also spoke Tuesday on the seventh day of testimony. Ingram was in charge of the FBI’s civil rights desk in Mississippi during the 1960s, and has been helping agents in the revived investigation of the attacks on Dee and Moore.

Ingram testified that Edwards in 2006 gave investigators some details that authorities previously had not known about the case.

Edwards testified during the trial that he and Seale, a longtime friend, belonged to a Klan chapter, or “klavern,” headed by Seale’s late father. Seale has denied belonging to the KKK.

Edwards told the jury of eight whites and four blacks that he saw Seale hold a sawed-off shotgun on the 19-year-olds were beaten. He said Seale later told him about how Dee and Moore were dumped into a remote backwater of the Mississippi River south of Vicksburg.

Parts of the badly decomposed bodies of Dee and Moore were found more than two months after the young men disappeared.