Defense attorneys for a reputed Ku Klux Klansman charged with kidnapping in the 1964 slayings of two black teenagers urged a federal judge Wednesday to throw out the case because dozens of witnesses are dead or incapacitated.
The pretrial hearing in the case of James Ford Seale came exactly 43 years to the day since Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee were brutally murdered on May 2, 1964. The teens were seized near the southwest Mississippi town of Roxie and beaten before being weighted down and thrown into the Mississippi River to drown.
Defense lawyers argued Wednesday that the case is far too old for Seale to get a fair trial.
Federal public defender Kathy Nester called to the stand an investigator who testified that 36 potential witnesses are dead or unavailable.
"Every time we tried to follow these roads, we stopped at a grave site," Nester said.
However, many of the dead witnesses - from Klansmen to law enforcement officers - would not have helped Seale's case, anyway, said federal prosecutor Paige Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald scoffed at the suggestion that it would have been helpful to the defense to talk to the now-deceased mother of one of the victims, "who came to gather the effects of her mutilated son."
"Could you please tell me how her testimony would help this defendant?" Fitzgerald asked.
Seale, 71, was arrested in January and has pleaded not guilty to two counts of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy. U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate has been hearing testimony this week as he considers several pretrial motions. Jury selection is set to begin May 29.