Franklin County officials have settled a landmark lawsuit brought against it by the families of two black teens killed by Klansmen in 1964.
"The parties reached closure on what has been a fairly long exploration for the truth," said Margaret Burnham, director of Northeastern University's Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Program and one of several attorneys for the families. "Family members of Charles Moore and Henry Dee feel they have learned what happened when their loved ones were killed and are content to put the matter behind them.
"This civil case is part of the effort to bring to justice to the perpetrators responsible for the violence of the past, whether members of the Ku Klux Klan or law enforcement officials."
On May 2, 1964, Klansmen abducted and beat Dee and Moore, both 19, before taking them to an old portion of the Mississippi River and drowning them.
Reputed Klansman James Ford Seale, convicted in 2007 on kidnapping and conspiracy charges, is serving three life sentences. On June 4, his attorneys filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping to have the case heard by the justices.
Burnham said details of the settlement remain confidential.
Franklin County's attorney, Michael Wolf of Jackson, would not comment, but Franklin County officials passed a resolution explaining their position.
After lawyers for the Dee and Moore families reached agreement with the company insuring Franklin County, Franklin officials said they had no choice but to accept the settlement.
"Franklin County is not in a financial position to continue the litigation in this matter without insurance coverage," the resolution said.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Tom Lee concluded the families should be able to move forward with the litigation, making it the first such lawsuit to clear the hurdle of the statute of limitations since unpunished killings from the civil rights era began to be reopened in 1989.
Moore's brother, Thomas, said he's satisfied with the settlement. "I did all I could do," he said.
For nearly five years, he dedicated himself to finding out what happened to his brother and his friend. "Now I've got all the truth I can possibly get," he said. "I'm ready to move on and enjoy my retirement."
He praised the work of Burnham, of documentary filmmaker David Ridgen and former U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton in the journey that led to Seale's conviction. "I'm so glad that I can dedicate my life back to my family," he said.
In their resolution, Franklin County officials said they in no way condone "the horrific deaths of Charles Moore and Henry Dee. The county desires not to imply the deaths were anything but abhorrent."
County officials said Franklin County played no role in the deaths, insisting the Klan was solely responsible.
County officials said they also faced the difficulty of piecing together a case of more than four decades, attempting to "glean truth from a period in history cloaked in secrecy, lore and media error."
The lawsuit brought by the families' attorneys said then-Franklin County Sheriff Wayne Hutto and Deputy Kirby Shell conspired with the Klan to commit these crimes, refused to investigate afterward and then covered up what happened. Hutto and Shell died decades ago.
The first time the families knew of this was when the federal grand jury that indicted Seale in 2007 also named Hutto as an unindicted co-conspirator, the lawsuit said.
(Reprinted with permission of The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Miss.)