By Kevin Thibodeaux
Five civil rights-era murder investigations in Louisiana – including three in Concordia Parish – and 10 in Mississippi are among the more than two dozen that will remain open and active, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) annual update to Congress.
Eleven cases have been closed.
The Justice Department report, which has not been publicly released as of today, was obtained by the Unsolved Civil Rights Murder Project at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication, which has been working with the Concordia Sentinel since 2009 probing local and regional cold case homicides.
Of the 125 alleged hate murders originally assigned to the FBI Civil Rights Unit Cold Case Initiative under the Emmett Till Act of 2007, 27 remain open, including the 1964 murders of Frank Morris and Joseph Edwards, both of Concordia Parish, and Wharlest Jackson of Natchez in 1967.
A new case also appears in this year's annual report -- that of William Piercefield of Concordia Parish. Piecefield was killed in July 1965 in Ferriday in what was described as a gun battle with the Concordia Parish Sheriff's Office and Ferriday police.
Piecefield, 42, according to an article in the Concordia Sentinel in the hours after the shooting, was reportedly cornered inside his house by police following what authorities described as a domestic disturbance involving a hostage. The article said police fired tear gas into the home and later kicked in a door and shot and killed Piercefield.
Two regional cases also remain open: The 1964 murder of Clifton Walker in Woodville, Miss., and the 1965 killing of Johnny Queen in Fayette, Miss.
The famous "Mississippi Burning" case involving slain Civil Rights workers in Philadelphia, Miss., in 1964 -- James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner -- also remains open.
Additional cases involving victims in Louisiana and Mississippi that remain open include:
· Louis Allen, Amite County, Miss., January 31, 1964.
· Benjamin Brown, Jackson, Miss., May 11, 1967.
· Carrie Brumfield, Franklinton, La., September 12, 1967.
· O’Neal Moore, Varnado, La., June 2, 1965.
· Mack Charles Parker, Pearl River County, Miss., May 4, 1959.
· William Roy Prather, Corinth, Miss., October 31, 1959.
· Johnny Queen, Fayette, Miss., August 8, 1965.
· Clifton Walker of Woodville, Miss., February 29, 1964.
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.
The 11 cases closed this year include the following victims (with their place and date of death):
· Isadore Banks of Marion, Ark., June 8, 1964. Case closed August 2, 2012.
· Mattie Greene of Ringgold, Ga., May 20, 1965. Case closed May 4, 2012.
· Jimmie Lee Griffith of Sturgis, Miss., Sept. 24, 1965. Case closed August 14, 2012.
· Isaiah Henry of Greensburg, La., July 28, 1954. Case closed May 21, 2012.
· Booker T. Mixon of Clarksdale, Miss., September 12, 1959. Case closed August 13, 2012.
· William Moore of Attalla, Ala., April 23, 1963. Case closed August 2, 2012.
· Samuel O’Quinn of Centreville, Miss., August 14, 1959. Case closed May 4, 2012.
· Jimmy Powell of New York City, July 16, 1964. Case closed February 9, 2012.
· Fred Robinson of Edisto Island, S.C., August 3, 1960. Case closed February 2, 2012.
· Willie Joe Sanford of Hawkinsville, Ga., March 1, 1957. Case closed July 5, 2012.
· Marshall Scott of Orleans Parish, January 1965. Case closed on May 25, 2012.
The LSU team has gained access, through the Freedom of Information Act, to more than 35,000 pages of declassified FBI documents from the original investigations.
According to the DOJ report, three cases have been turned over to state authorities and saw convictions while two federally prosecuted. The report states that only five convictions have resulted from the five-year investigations into these cases.
When DOJ closes a case, a letter is sent to the victim’s next-of-kin detailing the FBI’s efforts and explaining the reason for closing the case. In October, Heith Janke, supervisory special agent for the Civil Rights Initiative Unit, told LSU’s 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, DOJ says 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.
Outside of the 15 open investigations in Louisiana and Mississippi, the remaining 12 deaths occurred in Alabama (3), Florida (2), Georgia (4) and South Carolina (3).
Although there are only 20 cases still open, 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," DOJ reports. "We believe that we have made substantial progress this year, and look forward to continued progress in the upcoming year."