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Families of Victims Welcome Seale Verdict

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

More than four decades after two African-American teenagers were killed in Mississippi, a federal jury has found a man guilty in the case. James Ford Seale is a reputed Klansman. He's been convicted of kidnapping and conspiracy in the 1964 killings. Family members of the victims say it shows how much this former segregationist state has changed since the civil rights era.

NPR's Allison Keyes reports from Jackson.

ALLISON KEYES: Inside the courtroom, people leaned forward on their seats as the jury's unanimous verdict was read. Seale, now a frail-looking 71-year-old, didn't react. But Thelma Collins took off her glasses and wiped tears from her eyes. Her little brother, Henry Dee, was one of the victims. And she told reporters she had almost given up hope that he would ever be vindicated.

Ms. THELMA COLLINS (Henry Dee's Sister): I thank the Lord that we got justice. Yes, the Lord was with us, because I cried every day. If anybody would look at me, they could see I had - it's on my mind all the time. It never did leave my mind (unintelligible).

KEYES: Dee and his friend Charles Moore were both 19 years old on May 2nd, 1964. Prosecutors say Seale and other Klansmen targeted the two because Dee had been to Chicago and had chemically straightened hair. The men decided Dee must be a member of the Black Panther Party, prosecutors say, and kidnapped the teens and accused them of hiding guns in a church. Though no guns were found, prosecutors say the teens were bound, weighted with a Jeep engine block and railroad ties and drowned in the Mississippi River.

Seale was convicted of conspiracy to kidnap the teens, the act of kidnapping them and transporting them across state lines. Seale's defense attorney, George Lucas...

Mr. GEORGE LUCAS (Defense Attorney): We're very disappointed with the verdict. We expect to appeal. We still believe that the speedy trial issue that we've brought up before trial should be determinative. Statute of limitations we believe ended long before this trial began.

KEYES: But prosecutors told jurors during closing argument that there is no statute of limitations on kidnapping resulting in death. The government's star witness, former Klansman Charles Edwards, testified that Seale admitted drowning the two teens. Justice Department prosecutor Paige Fitzgerald says this verdict sends a message.

Ms. PAIGE FITZGERALD (Prosecutor): I think it's important that we show the country that the crimes from the past can still be solved and that justice can still be reached for the families of victims like this.

KEYES: Charles Moore's brother Thomas says prosecutors built their case on evidence he gathered with a documentary producer from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation over the past 23 months.

Mr. THOMAS MOORE (Charles Moore's Brother): Had it not been for (unintelligible) and the Canadian Broadcasting Company, we would not have seen this day.

KEYES: Moore says he hopes the so-called Emmett Till bill pending on Capitol Hill, would create a Justice Department position that would coordinate the investigation and prosecution of cold civil rights murders will mean justice for other families who have suffered similar losses during that era. But he says for him and Dee's sister, this verdict is a cause for celebration.

Mr. MOORE: And I'm so glad that now her and her family can look at (unintelligible) rest in peace.

KEYES: Seale faces life imprison when he's sentenced on August 24th.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Jackson, Mississippi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Allison Keyes is an award-winning journalist with almost 20 years of experience in print, radio, and television. She has been reporting for NPR's national desk since October 2005. Her reports can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition Sunday.

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