James Ford Seale accused of helping kill 2 black men in Jim Crow-era Miss. JACKSON, Miss. – More than 300 potential jurors have been summoned for the trial of a reputed Ku Klux Klansman accused of abducting, beating and dumping two young black men into the Mississippi River 43 years ago. James Ford Seale, 71, is to go on trial this coming week on kidnapping and conspiracy charges in the latest of several Jim Crow-era cases to be revived and brought to trial across the South in the past 13 years.
Seale, of Roxie, has been jailed since he was indicted and arrested in January. He has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the May 2, 1964, attacks on 19-year-olds Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore in rural southwest Mississippi. Jury selection for his federal trial in Jackson is to start Wednesday, and attorneys anticipate that part of the case could last up to four days.
The tableau — lawyers questioning would-be jurors about their thoughts on race before picking them to judge facts in crimes that date to the civil rights era — has become a familiar one in the South. Rita Schwerner Bender, the widow of a civil rights worker killed elsewhere in Mississippi in 1964, said there is value in American society re-examining long-dormant cases from an era of racial brutality.
“On the one hand, you could say it’s old because it happened so long ago,” Bender said in an interview from her law office in Seattle. “On the other hand, the very fact that there has been no acknowledgment until now indicates that it is not old history. It’s present business.” Mitch Moran, a lawyer who represented the man convicted in Michael Schwerner’s death, disagreed. He called the revival of decades-old cases “a political movement.”
“It’s a new thing, I guess, digging these cases up, trying to find a jury that is going to apply the law and not feel like they are supposed to come up with a certain verdict,” said Moran, of Carthage, Miss. Moran defended Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen in 2005, when the state of Mississippi brought the first murder case in the slayings of Michael Schwerner and fellow civil-rights workers James Chaney and Andrew Goodman. A jury convicted Killen of manslaughter, and he is serving a 60-year sentence.