Another Trial, Another Test, for Southern Justice

It's time for another (and some say the last) high-profile case resulting from long-ago crimes. It's time for another old man to face a jury and his conscience. It's time for another test of the distance we've come from a time when the law protected whites at the expense of blacks. It's time for another Southern trial of a civil-rights era crime. And there is little reason to think or believe that this trial will end much differently from some of the other, similar trials we've seen over the past few years.

Jury selection begins today in Jackson, Mississippi for a man named James Ford Seale. He is charged with conspiracy and kidnapping relating to the 1964 deaths of two black teenagers, Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, who were brutally killed in May of that fateful year (the bodies of Moore and Dee were discovered while the police were searching for the bodies of the now-famous three civil rights workers, Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman). Seale was initially charged in 1964 but local authorities quickly dropped the case. The feds revived it a few years ago and here we are today, on the cusp of another round of ugly nostalgia.

From Seale's defense attorneys we are hearing what we always hear from defense attorneys in these cases-- that it's all about politics and dredging up the past, and that the client, an old man, ought to simply be left alone. These arguments make for good copy but are rarely effective. They didn't work when Bobby Frank Cherry was convicted for his role in a church bombing, and they didn't work when Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of being involved in the "Mississippi Burning" crimes. And there is no reason to think that they will work for Seale. Modern Southern juries already have demonstrated that the passage of decades is not a deal-breaker when it comes to rendering justice.

Nor does it help Seale that the feds have on their side as a witness in the case a fellow named Charles Marcus Edwards, who initially was charged with Seale back in 1964. If jurors believe Edwards, Seale is pretty much finished. And if Seale's lawyers go after Edwards as a liar, etc., then surely they will be signaling jurors that their client, Seale, is no day at the beach either. You know that the defense is in trouble when the lawyers start barking about the jury questionnaire and, indeed, that's been one of the more notable pretrial disputes.

I cannot say that I enjoy following these trials-- I think they cause a lot of people a lot of pain. But they also serve an important purpose and send an important message about the rule of law and the strength of justice in this country. That message is simple: Justice delayed need not be justice denied.

By Andrew Cohen |  May 30, 2007; 8:08 AM ET
Previous: It's Hard to Find Good People These Days | Next: Gonzales's Failures Broader Than Prosecutor Purge

Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



stiring up civil right, is like stiring
poop, the more you stir the more it stink.
time will do more to heal, than all the laws on books
enjoyed your column, you did good
Paul
Pompano Beach FL
agree, I think they cause a lot of people a lot of pain.

Posted by: p caple | May 30, 2007 12:48 PM

Good article. I agree that it is painful, but necessary.

Posted by: Suzanne | May 30, 2007 12:52 PM

Hard for me to be critical of such a case. It may have been decades ago when it happened, but it did happen. To think that because Seale is now an "old man" he should not be held accountable is not a valid argument as in such cases it is the crime, not the age of the defendant, that matters.

Posted by: Frank S. | May 30, 2007 01:18 PM

"stiring up civil right, is like stiring
poop"??? What?? Civil Rights and poop don't belong in the same sentence, Just because this hate filled man is old, does not mean he is not as nasty as he was in 1964, this man helped to MURDER two people, that's just the two that we know about. What i got out of the comments by Paul, is .... just let it be, it's been so long. Look, the more we hold these (for lack of a better word) people accountable for the actions they commited,the cleaner this world becomes.I say fry him, and anybody else who thinks he's told old to be punished, there is no statute of limitations on MURDER.

Posted by: Terrell Moore | May 30, 2007 01:39 PM

The murders may be decades old, but the young men are still dead; they never got the chance to become "old men" themselves. Let the killers face justice.

Posted by: KFlacy | May 30, 2007 02:10 PM

And we in America wonders why other nations think that we are the most hypocritical nation/people in the world. We try to force our supposedly moral values on others, all the while not practicing what we preac.

One race can kill another race of people and it's ok.

Posted by: Ray Parker | May 30, 2007 02:41 PM

Does anyone know how these cases avoid the concept of double jeopardy? I thought it was illegal to try a person for the same offense twice? Not that he shouldn't be, but doesn't it open a Pandora's Box to re-try people when the political view of the country changes over time? In this case it has been a positive change, but what if it were a negative change? Are we setting the stage for murder trials of physicians who perform abortions in 20 years?

Posted by: BCinDC | May 30, 2007 02:41 PM

Stirring up civil Rights like poop? Well if nothing else the person who posted this comment is honest. And sadly I believe they speak for so many people in this country. The very ugly, hateful, and immoral acts of the past are to be ignored - unless of course it is someone else's backyard, somebody else's country, somebody else's skeleton. Some people go so far as to say it is not "patriotic" to open the closet of the U.S.'s crimes against humanity. I say the U.S. needs to do more cleaning out it's own closet. We will then be more credible - if not to others looking out perhaps to those of us looking from within.

Posted by: martina | May 30, 2007 02:48 PM

Trials of this sort seldom have a good effect on the community, especially when they are so old the community no longer has the issue before them. The criminal law in any event is there to protect the community more than to punish an offender. For an offender, the preferred action is forgiveness rather than a trial after this length of time following an event.

Posted by: Caponer | May 30, 2007 02:52 PM


Rather than say that this is justice overdue in punishing an old man, I ask, what was the reason the case was left to sleep for so long (and why suddenly reawakened now)until he became old?
The article says he was charged back then, but what is the evidence confirming this guy did the killing?

Posted by: Thompson | May 30, 2007 03:00 PM


Rather than say that this is justice overdue in punishing an old man, I ask, what was the reason the case was left to sleep for so long (and why suddenly reawakened now)until he became old?
The article says he was charged back then, but what is the evidence confirming this guy did the killing?

Posted by: Thompson | May 30, 2007 03:00 PM

BCinDC, I presume that no jeopardy attached to the original case because it was dismissed before trial. If it had gone to trial resulting in an acquittal, then Seale would be protected by the proscription against double jeopardy.

Posted by: CP | May 30, 2007 03:58 PM

"Seale was initially charged in 1964 but local authorities quickly dropped the case. The feds revived it a few years ago"

Locals handled the case originally. It's the federal Government today.

Different people, people!

Also, even if he had been acquitted in state court, I don't believe that the double jeopardy which would apply in the state courts would carry over to the Federal Courts.

Posted by: DC | May 30, 2007 05:16 PM

These prosecutions do not cause a lot of people a lot of pain, what they do is provide closure, vindication for a system based on the rule of law and justice. The two murdered young men deserve nothing less than the justice afforded victims of murders which occurred last month or last week. To say that we should forgive and move on because of the inconvenience and "pain" these trials cause minimizes the crimes that were committed and the impact they had on the victims and their families and, indeed, this country.

Posted by: Lee | May 30, 2007 05:35 PM

I think a trial like this is a good reminder of what, not that many years ago, happened in Southern justice. Those who were obviously guilty going free and everyone else (whites) probably having a good laugh about it.
That is why I think this country should always have affirmative action at least as part of the school system. Even the Supreme Court handed down judgements that were at the expense of black people. That is why I think even the Supreme Court needs to provide affirmative action for black people in its rulings.
Ruth Beazer

Posted by: Ruth Beazer | May 30, 2007 06:07 PM

I think a trial like this is a good reminder of what, not that many years ago, happened in Southern justice. Those who were obviously guilty going free and everyone else (whites) probably having a good laugh about it.
That is why I think this country should always have affirmative action at least as part of the school system. Even the Supreme Court handed down judgements that were at the expense of black people. That is why I think even the Supreme Court needs to provide affirmative action for black people in its rulings.
Ruth Beazer

Posted by: Ruth Beazer | May 30, 2007 06:07 PM

I think a trial like this is a good reminder of what, not that many years ago, happened in Southern justice. Those who were obviously guilty going free and everyone else (whites) probably having a good laugh about it.
That is why I think this country should always have affirmative action at least as part of the school system. Even the Supreme Court handed down judgements that were at the expense of black people. That is why I think even the Supreme Court needs to provide affirmative action for black people in its rulings.
Ruth Beazer

Posted by: Ruth Beazer | May 30, 2007 06:20 PM

I think a trial like this is a good reminder of what, not that many years ago, happened in Southern justice. Those who were obviously guilty going free and everyone else (whites) probably having a good laugh about it.
That is why I think this country should always have affirmative action at least as part of the school system. Even the Supreme Court handed down judgements that were at the expense of black people. That is why I think even the Supreme Court needs to provide affirmative action for black people in its rulings.
Ruth Beazer

Posted by: Ruth Beazer | May 30, 2007 06:20 PM

I think a trial like this is a good reminder of what, not that many years ago, happened in Southern justice. Those who were obviously guilty going free and everyone else (whites) probably having a good laugh about it.
That is why I think this country should always have affirmative action at least as part of the school system. Even the Supreme Court handed down judgements that were at the expense of black people. That is why I think even the Supreme Court needs to provide affirmative action for black people in its rulings.
Ruth Beazer

Posted by: Ruth Beazer | May 30, 2007 06:20 PM

" For an offender, the preferred action is forgiveness rather than a trial after this length of time following an event. "

Not quite...the preferred action is for the offender to confess and seek forgiveness rather than hide behind his advanced years that he and others denied three young men who stood up for the civil rights of us all. When one is denied, we are are all denied.

Posted by: Stuart Dixon | May 30, 2007 07:55 PM

" For an offender, the preferred action is forgiveness rather than a trial after this length of time following an event. "

Not quite...the preferred action is for the offender to confess and seek forgiveness rather than hide behind his advanced years that he and others denied three young men who stood up for the civil rights of us all. When one is denied, we are are all denied.

Posted by: Stuart Dixon | May 30, 2007 07:55 PM

I grew up down South and I have looked in the eyes of men like Seale. He did it and he's proud of it. We have moved on but to convict this man would take another brick from the iron wall of cultured arrogance he represents. Consequences are long overdue.

Posted by: Cecil Gray | May 30, 2007 09:44 PM

An eye for an eye.

And age makes no difference.

From me....a 76 year old man.

A murder of another human being is a murder no matter how long or no matter the reason.

Posted by: Harry | May 30, 2007 11:44 PM

An eye for an eye.

And age makes no difference.

From me....a 76 year old man.

A murder of another human being is a murder no matter how long or no matter the reason.

Posted by: Harry | May 30, 2007 11:45 PM

An eye for an eye.

And age makes no difference.

From me....a 76 year old man.

A murder of another human being is a murder no matter how long or no matter the reason.

Posted by: Harry | May 30, 2007 11:46 PM

Justice may be delayed but Justice must be served.

Posted by: Karunagaran | May 30, 2007 11:57 PM

"For an offender, the preferred action is forgiveness rather than a trial"

Caponer, where do you find this in the Criminal Code (Title 18 U.S.C.) or the Mississippi Criminal statutes?

Posted by: | May 31, 2007 09:46 AM

"For an offender, the preferred action is forgiveness rather than a trial"

From the offender's point of view, I'm sure that is true. I can well imagine that the prisons are populated with offenders that would prefer that the victims and society forgive them rather than put them away for their crimes.

The question is, what is in the interest of our society? Why can't there be both punishment AND forgiveness? That way, justice is served and we, as a people, begin to heal.

Posted by: John Q. Public | May 31, 2007 11:08 AM

After the subsequent responses, again I ask
why did it take so long for someone to prosecute if this guy was so clearly guilty?

It seems his charge is of kidnapping, somehow related (the connection isn't clear)to the murders. If his actions were somehow not actionable under Mississippi law , do we really think federal investigators would defer to a state law which somehow violates federal?

Has it been conclusively shown that this guy committed a crime (note, he isn't being charged with the murders which happened later)?
I find it odd that if guilt is so clearly established, such as assumed by some above readily calling for "vindication","eye-for an eye", "justice",and presuming "cultural arrogance" from someone's eyes, , why had to wait 43 years to even do anything (not through the whole 80's, 90's, 2000-2007?) There IS an element of unnecessary cruelty in suddenly calling for punishment when while there was ample opportunity to file charges by all concerned, nothing was done, assuming charges are even substantiated.

Nor entirely sure either what a serious crime (if occurred) not being punished has to do with general affirmative action.

Posted by: Thompson | May 31, 2007 01:57 PM

I'm not really sure what point Thompson is trying to make, as it has nothing to do with the conspiracy and kidnapping trial of James Ford Seale. Either Thompson is completely unaware of American history and basic civil rights or he/she is playing devil's advocate.

The point is that there were numerous horrific murders of black folks across the country (especially in the South) during the 1950's in an attempt to continue the various Jim Crow "laws" and black voter supression that had been occuring for decades. People knew, in many of these cases, who was responsible for the murders, often because the murderer was quite proud of what he did, and boasted about it. "Southern justice" refers to the all-too-common practice in Southern courts back then of dropping charges, aquitting, etc. any case where a white man was accused of murdering someone who was black. The problem was so extreme that the federal courts finally had to intervene, and make it a civil rights case. In Seale's case, the feds did not intervene, because they were focussing on the "Mississippi burning" trial to the exclusion of most other cases.

Posted by: TEL | May 31, 2007 03:47 PM

I forgot to finish:

The recent trials are those where there is enough evidence remaining to bring a case to trial. For Seale, because his case was never brought to trial, he can still be charged for the original crime (as opposed to civil rights violations). Because of the horrific nature of the crime he's being tried with, I think it's extremely unlikely the "old man" defense is going to work. Who wants someone capable of such a terrible act to go free?

Posted by: TEL | May 31, 2007 03:58 PM

TEL:
By the way there is an interesting ABC news article regarding JN-30R, the main source for the FBI's information.
My question was after the Mississippi DA in 1965 had dismissed the case "so that evidence could be presented to a grand jury at a later date", if evidence were that surefire against Seale, why it took federal authorities that long after 1965 to do anything. If they were focussing on another case at the time as you mention, but after that for 40 years? Only after Moore's brother came in 2005 for a film was the case publicized.
Seale has all along denied any involvement in the murders (although his quotes at times sound possibly nose-thumbing). According to Wikipedia, he actually testified before a house subcommittee in 1966, where the charges were stated in the record, but nothing was done, so there must not have been conclusive evidence. I would be really surprised if just because a Southern acquittal was made (and in this case in order to find further facts to present at a later date), and there was evidence to the feds that the acquittal and Southern trial was bogus, that the FBI would just have to defer to that, as a "civil rights" case at best. Also, Edwards (now given immunity)later denied implicating Seale in the beatings (question regarding Seale seems to be his involvement in the kidnapping and driving, and possibly the beating, not in killing the youths later).

Seale said that Edwards may have been involved, but he denies any involvement himself. Other than Edwards' statements (which previously Edwards had retracted), I wonder what stronger evidence they could have found after 40 years which was apparently not thought strong by the FBI at the time when the event occurred, and if it might be premature to assume guilt given this.

Posted by: Thompson | May 31, 2007 09:41 PM

It is a pity that this murderer did not grant the two people the prize that he enjoyed!! That is the ability to grow old and have children !!This man is a murderer and deserves to face the music that He alone wrote!! Whatever his age or health!!

Posted by: John Thomas | June 1, 2007 01:06 AM


I wonder why some people seem to think that it is inapproprite to try the man merely because the crime was committed so many years ago. No such questions arise when we get hold of nazis and try them for crimes committed even much earler. Many a doddering old nazi has been sent to the gallows. And what about the surviving families of the young men killed? Dont they also desrve justice

Posted by: satyentrivedi | June 1, 2007 08:35 AM

Thompson:

I agree that if the only evidence is Edwards' eyewitness testimony, the case would be weak, so I'm assuming other evidence exists as well. I also wonder why Seale was only being charged with kidnapping and conspiracy. My guess is that Edwards cannot testify about the actual murder (perhaps he's claiming he wasn't present at that time).

I think the guilty verdict of the Cherry case has sparked an interest in re-opening some of the most well-known cases.

Posted by: TEL | June 1, 2007 01:18 PM

Justice is supposed to be BLIND. Age does not matter. The pain that this prosecution may cause some, does not matter.

With regards to the pain suffered by African-Americans over the past four hundred years, do you not think they deserve more than anybody to see justice served. How insulting it must be for any of them to hear anyone's reservation about this trial proceeding because of the pain it may cause or stir up as if they have not dealt with this pain already or somehow have forgotten this pain or as if you are trying to protect them from additional pain. After all the African-Americans have suffered; anyone's concern for the pain this one trial may cause their community is suspect at best.

Which brings us to the pain the rest of us may feel: I've heard many people claim that guilt is a worthless feeling and with which I adamantly disagree. Guilt is a major ingredient in formulating ones moral fabric. Reducing guilt to a worthless feeling is a good first step in becoming a sociopath. I view anyone's reluctance in seeing this trial move forward because of the pain it may hold for some, analogous to those who say guilt is a worthless feeling. After all, some of the pain associated with this trial has to do with guilt we may feel for our country allowing these horrific injustices to exist and to continue for so long. We should never forget this pain nor medicate this pain. This pain should be a waypoint for our moral compass.

Or maybe some feel pain for an old white man going to jail, I don't. It is pathetic, that anyone should have reservations about the prosecution of this case because of the "pain" it may cause someone. I guess it is just too inconvenient for some to have to feel the pain for it is like "stirring poo" and it stinks. Are we that medicated of society that we are scared to feel emotional pain? Well, Prozac me. Sorry to have awakened feelings that you should have never forgotten in the first place. I am sure the victims and their families would prefer to drop all charges and to forgive and forget versus cause you any pain. Luckily your pain carries no weight today. For this Great Democracy of ours to truly be GREAT, Justice must be BLIND and never denied, otherwise you end up with the obstruction of justice whereby murder trials are delayed forty years.

Posted by: Vince V., Charlotte, NC | June 1, 2007 01:53 PM

Su, suspect that means if it's painful, it must be necessary.

Posted by: Jo | June 1, 2007 08:19 PM

How about the numerous cases where the (supposed) suspect was black and the victim white ? Where the black defendant was not given a fair trail in the killing of a white person and found guilty anyway ? There is such a case, the man's name is Gary Tyler. Google the name and see what you find. There have been several articles written about this case by top well known journalist and even Amnesty International has tried to help him gain his freedom, all with no good result. This man has been denied true justice for the last 32 years while he himself is the age of 48 years old ! In 1975 he was convicted and given the death penalty at the age of 17 making him the youngest inmate on death roll in the entire country at the time. He has been serving this unjust sentence at Angola Prison in Louisiana all of these years. Please go to www.freegarytyler.com for more information and background on this incredible case. I stumbled across it in an e-mail from a civil rights group that I belong to. There is also a page created for him on MySpace. In the search box enter the words Free Gary Tyler. Only a loud outcry from the public is there any chance that this injustice can ever be corrected. If this sounds strange or unlikely check it out for yourself.

Posted by: jjjmac2003@yahoo.com | June 3, 2007 01:13 AM

P.S. When going to www.freegarytyler.com PLEASE be sure to sign the 2 petitions. You can also call or write to Governor Blanco of Louisiana and demand that in the interest of justice she grant Gary Tyler a full pardon. Please be polite but firm. Leave your name, address and phone number with the staff member you talk to. Be sure that they have taken all of your information correctly.
Office of Gov. of Louisiana P.O. Box 94004 Baton Rouge, La. 70804-9004 Call (225)342-0991 or (225)342-7015 Fax (225)342-7099 For additional information, or if you're interested in helping :

Letters of support can be sent to:
Gary Tyler # 84156
Louisiana State Penitentiary
ASH-4
Angola, LA 70712

National Coordinator - nationalcoordinator@freegarytyler.com
Media Relations - media@freegarytyler.com
Legal Liaison - legalliaison@freegarytyler.com
International Co-0rdinator - international@freegarytyler.com
I Thank you for listening, Peace.

Posted by: jjjmac2003@yahoo.com | June 3, 2007 07:41 AM

Fiat justitia, ruat coelum.

"Let justice be done, though the heavens fall."

Posted by: A. L. Flanagan | June 5, 2007 03:09 PM

mlk said it best " injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere

Posted by: marsha | June 19, 2007 06:05 AM

mlk said it best " injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere

Posted by: marsha | June 19, 2007 06:05 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2007 The Washington Post Company