JACKSON, Miss. – A former Ku Klux Klansman said he kept silent about the 1964 abduction, beating and drowning of two black teenagers because he feared retribution from fellow Klansmen.
Charles Marcus Edwards, granted immunity from prosecution, testified Monday in the federal kidnapping and conspiracy case against longtime friend James Ford Seale. He said he thought he'd be "a dead man" if he told authorities about the Klan's dealings, including the attacks on Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore in southwest Mississippi.
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Seale, 71, has pleaded not guilty and has denied ever belonging to the Klan. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.
The trial enters its seventh day of testimony Tuesday, and the jury could start deliberations this week. Seale will not testify, his court-appointed attorneys say.
Edwards, who began his testimony last Tuesday, was called back to the stand for follow-up questions.
Federal prosecutor Paige Fitzgerald asked whether he had told the FBI in the 1960s that he wouldn't give investigators any information about the Seale family if he had it.
"Were you afraid of the Seales?" she asked.
"In 1964 I was," Edwards responded.
Edwards said he honored the Klan's oath of secrecy for decades because he feared reprisals from Seale and other Klan members. He said last week that the Klan oath of "Christian militancy" includes a secrecy pledge.
Edwards said he and Seale belonged to the same Klan chapter, or "klavern," led by Seale's father, Clyde, who has since died. Edwards and Seale were among the Klansman who attacked Dee and Moore, both 19, on May 2, 1964, Edwards testified.
The teenagers were abducted near Meadville and beaten in the Homochitto National Forest. Parts of their badly decomposed bodies were found more than two months later more than 70 miles away in a Mississippi River backwater.
The only other witness to testify Monday was T.J. Sypnewski, a Jackson-based FBI agent who administered a lie detector test to Edwards last fall.
Sypnewski testified that Edwards initially failed two questions on the test. One was whether he knew who threw Dee and Moore into the river. The other was whether he knew what Seale did to Dee and Moore that day.
After Edwards was told he had failed on those two questions, he spoke to Sypnewski for about 45 minutes and then gave a handwritten statement that said Seale was involved, the agent testified.
With jurors out of the room on Monday, Moore's brother, Thomas Moore of Colorado Springs, Colo., said he spoke last week to Edwards, who had apologized to the victims' families and asked their forgiveness.
"I told him when I saw him at the hotel that I accepted his apology," said Thomas Moore, who had pushed investigators to reopen the cold case.