Court Overturns James Ford Seale’s Conviction for 1964 Murders

Prosecutors were heralded recently for their prosecution of James Ford Seale for the kidnapping of two black teenagers in Mississippi in 1964 that led to the deaths of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee. The former klansman was tried over 40 years after the crime, but a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ruled that the prosecution violated the five-year statute of limitations for such crimes.

Seals was a former sheriff’s deputy and was convicted of charges related to the killings of two black teens in 1964. However, in 2007, he was convicted of kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping, but according to the court this was a good 35 years too late.

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13 thoughts on “Court Overturns James Ford Seale’s Conviction for 1964 Murders”

  1. Just to keep this blog up to date, the full 5th Circuit heard arguments on the panel’s reversal in May 2009. In June the Court voted 9-9 on the statute of limitations question, which means that the trial court’s conviction was reinstated. On motion of defense counsel the 5th Circuit voted to ask the Supreme Court to review the matter. The ruling could potentially affect many other civil rights murder cases from the sixties.
    The complete story of the James Ford Seale trial, as well as Mississippi’s struggle for redemption, is told in my new book “The Past Is Never Dead.”

  2. Yes, Erin, you are correct. There is no statute of limitations on murder — because the Constitution is not a statute. It is above statutes. The Constitution is the highest law of the land. And, it provides that an accused has a right to a speedy-trial. Forty plus years is not “speedy.” The right goes back to the Magna Carta — some thousand years ago, when the people knocked the king down a peg or two.

    “Statutes” may be changed at will by a vote of Congress. However, changing the Constitution requires a vote of three-fourths of the states. So, if you wish to propose a Constitutional amendment to prosecute — er, persecute — Seale, feel free. But, oops, there is that pesky ex-post facto prohibition in the Constitution.

    By the way, charges sgainst Seale were brought and dismissed over forty years ago. So, prosecution is barred by the prohibition against double-jeopardy — also not a statute, but part of the Constitution. You may want to add abolishing that, as well, to your proposed constitutional-amendment — and see how far you get.

    Of course, there are countries that have no such constitutions, you may wish to move to — Somalia and Uganda come to mind.

  3. there is no statute of limitations on murder, thank god. i hope seale and his fellow murderers get what is coming to them!!!

  4. Ok I’m with the Court. So now let’s now try him for murder and conspiracy to commit murder, which, due to his ongoing campaign to secret away his role, comes squarely within the statute of limtations. The law is not impotent unless it wants to be,and I think here some creative jurisprudence is in order. The Court keeps two sets of book obviously and I think Mr. Seale deserves both thrown at him.

  5. It is interesting to hear some of these responses suggesting that the judge has to follow the law. Doesn’t the Bush Administration have to follow the law as well? What happened to the laws outlawing torture? I do hope this appellate decision is appealed to see if this killer can be held accountable for his actions.

  6. Usually the “conspiracy” charge allows the government to boot-strap cases which are too old under the SOL for the under-lying charge (in this case kidnapping). An argument can be made that an act, more recent in time, such as hiding evidence or obstructing an investigation is the point from which the SOL should be determined.

    So it may be a “bizarre” legal ruling and not just “bizarre” that someone who apparently bragged about his crimes for decades is now free.

  7. James F. Seale, dredged up for a “show-trial” after forty-five years, in violation of the right to a speedy-trial, never “recanted” and when charges were, eventually, thrown out, Nationalists said that “the demise of usurpation by Negro judges, affirmative-action juries, Voting-Rights-Act gerrymandering and cold-case witch-hunts is hastened.”

  8. That’s right the law is the law and it’s now up to God to sort this out, for the sake of his soul I hope he repents because there are no statutes in the afterlife.

  9. The law is the law.
    If I were the judge, I would have done the same thing.
    You have to do what the law says.
    If you do not like the law or a law, then change it.
    Tell Congress or vote out those who are not on your side.
    Vote in those who are.
    The power is with the people.
    Not with the courts.
    You have the power to change it all.
    Do nothing, and you get nothing.
    I am,

    George Vreeland Hill

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