Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Let Justice Be Done, Though The Heavens Fall.

Another Trial, Another Test, for Southern Justice
It's time for another high-profile case from the Civil Rights Movement. 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.
James Ford Seale, a 71-year-old reputed Ku Klux Klansman from the town of Roxie, was charged with kidnapping hitchhikers Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, both 19. For years, Seale’s family had told reporters that he had died. But in 2005, Thomas Moore and a Canadian documentary filmmaker, David Ridgen, found Seale, old and sick, living just a few miles down the road from where the kidnappings took place.

A second man long suspected in the attack, church deacon and reputed KKK member Charles Marcus Edwards, now 72, was not charged. There was no immediate explanation from federal prosecutors.

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.

Former Gov. William Winter, who was co-chairman of President Clinton’s racial reconciliation initiative, said the latest arrest — though done by federal rather than state authorities — shows that Mississippi “now is obviously seeking to make up for lost time in bringing people to justice.”

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.

Waiting. Hoping. Believing.


ichbinalj said...

Frank said: 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.

ichbinalj said...

Suzanne said: I agree that it is painful, but necessary.