Defense: Reputed Klansman acquittal should stand

Published 1:14 pm Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Lawyers for a reputed Klansman argued Monday that prosecutors are citing an irrelevant civil case in their efforts to reverse his acquittal in the abductions of two black teenagers slain in 1964.

James Ford Seale, 73, was convicted in June 2007 on kidnapping and conspiracy charges related to the abduction of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee. He had served just over a year of his three life sentences when his conviction was overturned by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in September.

Soon after, federal prosecutors asked that the panel to reconsider its ruling or that the full court hear the case. The panel’s ruling said the statute of limitations for kidnapping had expired in the four decades between Seale’s alleged crime and the federal charges.

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In a highly technical legal argument, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division claims the panel overlooked an important court precedent and erroneously applied a statute of limitation.

In a response filed Monday with the court, Seale’s lawyers said prosecutors have incorrectly used a ruling in a civil case to underpin their argument. Kathy Nester, Seale’s federal public defender, said federal prosecutors can’t prove the court ignored a precedent by citing the case that’s completely unrelated to the crime of kidnapping.

“My argument is, that case is totally different from the case that is before the court now. It’s not even a criminal case,” Nester said. “That case does not meet the requirements under the law to merit a rehearing.”

Federal prosecutors didn’t immediately respond to phone and e-mail messages seeking comment Monday night.

Moore and Dee, both 19, were hitchhiking in southwest Mississippi when they were abducted, beaten, weighted down and thrown, possibly still alive, into a Mississippi River backwater.

Prosecutors say the Klan beat and killed the teens over rumors that black residents were arming themselves for an uprising during the violent struggle for racial equality.

The government has already asked that Seale remain behind bars until the appeals are resolved, while authorities in Mississippi are trying to determine if there’s enough evidence to charge him with murder under state law if his acquittal is upheld in the federal case.

There’s no statute of limitations on state murder charges.