By Kevin Thibodeaux | LSU Student
Five civil rights-era murder investigations in Louisiana and 10 in Mississippi are among the more than two dozen that will remain open and active, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report to Congress outlining progress of cases the FBI was authorized to investigate under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007.
Overall, 11 cases were closed in 2012, three from Mississippi and two in Louisiana, according to the annual report.
A copy of the Justice Department report, which had not been publicly released as of Wednesday, was obtained earlier this week by the Unsolved Civil Rights Murder Project at LSU's Manship School of Mass Communication.
Congress authorized the Justice Department to reopened 112 cold cases involving 125 victims from the 1950s and '60s, giving the FBI authority to investigate these 40- to 50-year-old hate crimes. The report indicates that 11 of the 112 cold cases were closed in 2012, bringing the total number of closed cases to 92. The 20 remaining cases account for 27 victims.
Cases remaining open from Louisiana and Mississippi include the following victims::
The five cases closed from Mississippi and Louisiana involved the following victims:
The LSU team began investigating these cold case murders in 2010, gaining access through the Freedom of Information Act to more than 35,000 pages of declassified FBI documents from the original investigations.
Convictions for these decades-old crimes are hard to achieve as witnesses and suspects die. The report states that only six convictions, some which preceded the Till Act, have been obtained in the last decade.
When a case is closed, primarily because suspects are dead or it is felt the death was not racially motivated, a letter from the Justice Department is hand-delivered to the surviving next-of-kin, if they can be located, explaining what the FBI found.
Two cases were federally prosecuted and resulted in convictions. Ernest Henry Avants was convicted in 2003 for aiding and abetting the premeditated murder of Ben Chester White, who was killed in a Ku Klux Klan-related murder near Natchez on June 10, 1966. Avants died in prison in 2004. James Ford Seale was convicted in 2007 for the May 2, 1964, kidnapping of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore, whose bodies were found near Parkers Landing, Miss.. Seale died in prison in 2011 while his conviction was on appeal.
The DOJ also assisted states in prosecuting three cases:
Thomas Blanton was convicted in Alabama in 2001 for the murder of Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson in Birmingham, Ala., on Sept. 17, 1963. Bobby Cherry was also convicted for the crime in 2002 and died in prison in 2004.
Edgar Ray Killen was convicted in 2005 for the highly publicized June 21, 1964, murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Philadelphia, Miss., although this case remain open on the assumption others were involved.
And in 2010, James Bernard Fowler was convicted in Alabama for the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson near Marion, Ala., on Feb. 18, 1965.
A parish grand jury has been sitting since 2011 in Ferriday, La., in which testimony surrounding the fiery death of black businessman Frank Morris at the hands of Klansmen on Dec. 14, 1964, when his shoe repair store was firebombed four days earlier, is being heard.
In October, Heith Janke, supervisory special agent for the Civil Rights Initiative Unit, told LSU's Cold Case investigative team that 63 next-of-kin letters had been sent out to the victims' families outlining what the bureau found.
"Although very few prosecutions have resulted from these exhaustive efforts, the Department's efforts to review these matters have helped bring closure to many family members of the victims," the report states.
Of the 92 closed cases, the suspects are deceased in 49 of the cases while "there was insufficient evidence of a potential violation of a criminal civil rights statute" in 31 cases, the report states.
The 27 deaths which remain open on the list occurred in Louisiana (5), Mississippi (10), Georgia (4), Alabama (3), South Carolina (3) and Florida (2).
Although there are only 20 cases still open involving these 27 victims, the FBI emphasized there is no timeline or deadline to close the remaining cases.
"Although our investigations have reached an end in the majority of the matters reviewed, our work on the remaining matters continues in earnest," the Justice report says. "We believe that we have made substantial progress this year, and look forward to continued progress in the upcoming year."
The remaining 12 victims whose cases remain open are:
The six other cases that were closed, along with the dates and place of the death, are: