JACKSON, Miss. – ¡The reputed white supremacist accused in the 1964 killings of two black men has asked a U.S. judge to dismiss the charges, saying the statute of limitations has expired.
Assistant Federal Defender Kathy Nester filed the motion Friday on behalf of James Ford Seale, who pleaded not guilty Thursday to two counts of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy.
U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton said Saturday he had not seen the motion and could not comment.
Seale, 71, could be sentenced to up to life in prison if convicted in the deaths of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee.
Prosecutors said Moore and Dee were seized and beaten by white supremacist Ku Klux Klansmen, then thrown into the Mississippi River to drown.
• Click here to read the indictment (pdf)
Seale's arrest Wednesday marked the latest attempt by prosecutors in the South to close the books on crimes from the civil rights era that went unpunished. In recent years, authorities in Mississippi and Alabama won convictions in the 1963 assassination of NAACP activist Medgar Evers; the 1963 Alabama church bombing that killed four black girls; and the 1964 Mississippi killings of the three civil rights workers — the case that led to the discovery of Moore's and Dee's bodies.
The Justice Department reopened the case in 2000.
In the dismissal motion, Nester said prosecutors should have charged Seale under the law in effect at the time of the alleged offense. The statute of limitations on the federal crime of kidnapping is five years, meaning the deadline to charge Seale was 1969, she argued.
A second white man long suspected in the attack, reputed KKK member Charles Marcus Edwards, 72, has not been charged. People close to the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity said Edwards was cooperating with authorities.
Seale and Edwards were arrested in the case in 1964. But the FBI — consumed by the search for three civil rights workers who had disappeared that summer — turned the case over to local authorities, who promptly threw out all charges.
Seale remained jailed pending a bail hearing set for Monday. His court-appointed attorneys said he is suffering from cancer. His trial is scheduled for April 2, though that is expected to be delayed.