JACKSON, Miss. – A federal judge refused Thursday to dismiss kidnapping charges against reputed Ku Klux Klansman James Ford Seale in the 1964 slayings of two black men in Mississippi.
U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate also denied a request to let Seale, 71, out on bond.
Seale's wife, Jean, testified at Thursday's hearing that her husband has not been receiving proper medical care while in jail. Among other things, she said he had not been taken to doctor's appointments. She said earlier her husband is under the care of five doctors and has problems with his left leg from having had polio earlier in life.
Seale was arrested Jan. 24 at his home in the southwest Mississippi town of Roxie and pleaded not guilty the next day to two counts of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy. Seale is being held without bond in the Madison County jail outside Jackson.
Seale could be sentenced to up to life in prison if convicted in the case tied to the deaths of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee.
Prosecutors said Moore and Dee were seized and beaten by Klansmen, then thrown into the Mississippi River to drown.
Assistant Federal Defender Kathy Nester, in the motion filed last month seeking to dismiss the charges, said the government needed to charge Seale under the law that was 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.
On Thursday, Seale's lawyers argued that the 1972 repeal of kidnapping as a capital offense made the case a non-capital matter, which would be held to the five-year statute of limitations.
Prosecutor Paige Fitzgerald said, however, that the 1973 repeal did not apply retroactively.
"The defendant is trying to draw a distinction between murder cases and a kidnapping case," Fitzgerald said. "It's simply a distinction without a difference."
Wingate said based on the arguments, "This court is persuaded to dismiss the motion to dismiss."
Seale and reputed KKK member Charles Marcus Edwards were arrested in 1964. But the FBI — consumed by the search for three civil rights workers who had disappeared from east central Mississippi's Neshoba County that summer — turned the case over to local authorities, who promptly threw out all charges.
The Justice Department in 2000 reopened the investigation into the slayings of Moore and Dee. There was little movement in the case for several years until Moore's brother, Thomas Moore, and Canadian documentary filmmaker David Ridgen began their own investigation.
For years, Seale's family told reporters that he had died. But in 2005, Thomas Moore and Ridgen found Seale living a few miles from where the kidnapping took place.