James Ford Seale

 

Seven months before Frank Morris' shoe shop was destroyed by fire on Dec. 10, 1964, a vehicle passed by his shop along Hwy. 84 in Ferriday.

Inside the trunk on May 2, 1964, were two teenagers from Mississippi who were barely clinging to life. The vehicle was driven to Davis Island, where the young men's attackers shoved off twice from Parker's Landing in a boat with their victims -- Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charlie Eddie Moore, both 19.

Both had been kidnapped near Meadville, MS, while hitchhiking. They were taken to the Homochitto National Forest in Franklin County, held for hours and interrogated. Their captors believed they were gun-running. They were not. Still, they were beaten to near death.

As they breathed in the air of life, authorities say their bodies, bound with duct tape, were anchored with an engine block and dumped into the old channel of the Mississippi River.

Steven Hayne, a Mississippi pathologist who has testified in several Concordia Parish cases in recent years, including the 2005 murder of Alan Cupstid, said Dee and Moore were alive when thrown into the river. He knew that, he said during Seale's trial, because the cause of death was drowning. Both men were victims of homicide, he said.

On Friday, James Ford Seale, the only man tried in the case, was sentenced to three life terms for the deaths of Dee and Moore. Seale had nothing to say when Judge Henry Wingate asked Seale in the Jackson, MS, courtroom if he wanted to comment during the sentencing phase of his legal ordeal. He said no.

Seale is now appealing his convictions for federal kidnapping resulting in a death, and conspiracy to deprive individuals of their civil rights. He was convicted of these federal crimes by a jury in Mississippi on June 14.

Others were involved in the murders, but some are dead and one agreed to testify against Seale for immunity. Charles Marcus Edwards, also of Meadville, testified that he participated in the beatings but left before Seale and others took Dee and Moore to Louisiana to drown them. Edwards was given full immunity from prosecution in exchange for his truthful testimony. He remains a free man even though he selected Henry Hezekiah Dee as a target of the Klan beating and admitted that he knew the boys were not going home alive.

Just three days before he resigned from office, U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said Monday that Seale's case "is an outstanding example of our ongoing, vigilant efforts to prosecute racially-motivated crimes to the fullest extent of the law, regardless of how many years have passed."

"For his role in these terrible crimes, James Ford Seale will spend the remainder of his life in prison," said Wan J. Kim, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, noting that the "sentence will further send the message that the Justice Department will pursue criminals as long as it takes and as long as the law allows to bring them to justice."

It is on this promise that hope lives concerning a resolution of the murder of Frank Morris 43 years ago. Morris' case has been reopened by the FBI, one of dozens of Civil Rights-era killings, like that of Dee and Moore.

Syracuse University law professor, Janis McDonald, attended both the trial of James Ford Seale in Jackson in June and the sentencing last Friday after meeting with witnesses in Ferriday.

"The jury's conviction of Seale and these three life sentences provide a message of hope for the Morris family and the community of Ferriday," she told The Concordia Sentinel. "It was gratifying to talk with the members of the Meadville community, courageous people who wouldn't give up even after 43 years to see justice done in that case. It takes that kind of concerted effort," she added, "and we are lucky here in Ferriday to have committed members of the Morris family, a dedicated newspaper devoted to finding the truth, and members of the community who will step up to insist that these efforts for justice keep moving forward."

This might be the last chance for justice for Morris' family, including his 54-year-old granddaughter Rosa Williams of Las Vegas, NV, who left Ferriday in the 1970s, and his 52-year-old grandson, Nathan "Poncho" Morris. Poncho lived with Morris in the back of the shoe shop. At the age of 10, he watched his grandfather run out of the shop in flames.

Morris, 51, died four days after his shoe shop was set on fire in the dead of night just 15 days before Christmas. His attackers were two white men -- one armed with a single-barrel shotgun, the other with a five-gallon can of gasoline and a box of matches. The killers not only doused gasoline outside and inside the store, but also on Morris.

Meanwhile, the man sentenced in federal court in Mississippi last week spent much of his life in Concordia Parish in the 1970s. James Seale was involved in two plane crashes during that decade, one of which was the deadliest in Concordia's history. He also once wore a badge as a city policeman in Vidalia.

In September 1975, a former Vidalia city judge was convicted of DWI in Seventh District Court. Seale, who as a Vidalia policeman arrested the judge, testified in court that he was parked in his patrol car along Hwy. 84 at the old Shamrock Motel, now the Budget Inn, before the arrest was made. From that vantage point, he said he watched the judge get into his car and followed him before making the arrest.

Jerry Mitchell of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, MS, reported, on March 6, 2007, that two teenage black women, one with a child on her lap, were traveling through Vidalia on Jan. 18, 1975, when Seale chased them through town. Because his car was unmarked, the driver -- Linda Pickens -- refused to pull over, angering Seale.

Seale drove his black Buick Riviera beside the Chevrolet Nova in which the sisters were traveling and held up his badge shouting for them to pull over.

"We were screaming, and he was screaming," Pickens told The Clarion-Ledger.

The sisters flagged down a State Trooper, who told them that Seale was an off-duty police officer and that they had to follow Seale to the Vidalia Police Station. Seale ticketed Pickens for speeding and reckless driving and kept her driver's license. When Pickens returned to work in Baton Rouge, she told her boss what happened.

Her boss was Francis C. Grevemberg, a former Louisiana State Police superintendent from the 1950s. Grevemberg, Mitchell wrote, called the Vidalia Police Department about the matter. A few days later, the City of Vidalia notified Pickens that she had been found "not guilty on both charges."

On Nov. 18, 1970, Seale piloted a plane that collided with another at the Concordia Parish Airport resulting in the deaths of five people, including a prominent doctor. The lone survivor and only eyewitness to that crash, Seale offered the only account of what happened that day.

"It just wasn't my time to go," Seale told The Sentinel in an interview just a short time after the crash in 1970. Seale said his life was spared, he told the paper, "when his single-engine Cessna miraculously landed on the airstrip at the Concordia airport after colliding with a twin-engine Bonanza" with five people aboard, all of whom perished.

This crash has long been talked about in Concordia for more reasons than just the fact that Seale was involved.

Two years after the fatal two-plane crash at Vidalia, Seale was piloting a cropduster that crashed in a soybean field on Ballina Plantation on Saturday, June 24, 1972. He suffered a broken wrist, cuts and bruises and blamed a strong wind which he said caused a wing to dip downward causing the crash.

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