Jackson, Miss. Reputed Ku Klux Klansman James Ford Seale showed no emotion Friday as he was sentenced to three life terms in prison for his role in the segregation-era abduction and killing of two black teenagers.
Seale, 72, was convicted June 14 on federal charges of kidnapping and conspiracy in the deaths of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, two 19-year-olds who disappeared May 2, 1964. Seale and other Klansman beat them, then dumped them into the Mississippi River still alive, according to testimony.
The young men's decomposing bodies, mostly just skeletal remains, were found more than two months later in a river backwater. No one was ever convicted in the case - until now.
U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate told Seale the crimes for which he was convicted were "horrific" and "unspeakable." Though the crimes occurred 43 years ago, "justice itself is ageless," Wingate said.
The judge denied a defense request to allow Seale to go free on bond while his case is appealed; federal public defender Kathy Nester filed a notice of appeal.
"Mr. Seale maintains his innocence to this crime," Nester said.
Asked by Wingate whether he had anything to say, Seale stood, shook his head and said, "No."
Wingate agreed to assign Seale to a prison where his health needs can be met. He has cancer, bone spurs and other health problems.
The prosecution's star witness was Charles Marcus Edwards, a confessed Klansman who received immunity from prosecution for his admitted role in the abductions and his testimony.
He testified that Seale and other Klansmen abducted the two teenagers near Meadville, in southwest Mississippi, took them to the nearby Homochitto National Forest and beat them while asking questions about rumors that black people in the area were stockpiling guns. Edwards said that during the beating, the young men said - falsely - that weapons were being stored in a black church, Roxie First Baptist.
Edwards testified that he was absent later, but that Seale told him about how he and other Klansmen bound the teenagers with tape, put them into a car trunk and drove them through part of eastern Louisiana to get to the area where they were dumped, alive, into the river.
Seale was arrested on a state murder charge in 1964, but the charge was later dropped. Federal prosecutors say the state charges were dropped because local law enforcement officers in 1964 were in collusion with the Klan. Seale denies ever belonging to the Klan.
Federal prosecutors revived the case in 2005, largely at the urging of Thomas Moore, who researched the crime. Except for Edwards, the other people implicated in the crime had died, leaving Seale alone to face prosecution.