District Attorney Ronnie Harper of Natchez said the possibility exists that former Klansman James Ford Seale could be tried in the Sixth Circuit Court District of Mississippi for the 1964 murders of two teenagers from Franklin County.
But Harper said many jurisdictional issues must be resolved before a decision is made.
"Everyone is weighing the options right now and deciding which way to proceed," Harper said today (Wednesday).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently overturned Seale's conviction in the murders. He was tried in June 2007 in federal court and found guilty on two counts of federal kidnapping and one count of conspiracy to commit kidnappings in the deaths of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore, both 19.
While the U.S. Justice Department considers its next move in the case, it has asked that Seale not be freed because he is considered a flight risk. Once thought to be dead, government lawyers say Seale, a former Vidalia city policeman, could leave the region.
Klansmen abducted and beat Dee and Moore, who were hitchhiking, bound them with hay twine, taped their mouths shut, threw them in the trunk of a car and transported them across the Mississippi River Bridge at Natchez/Vidalia into Louisiana. The Klansmen then weighted down the two teens, who were still alive, before throwing them into an offshoot of the Mississippi River at Parkers Landing, where they drowned.
This action in itself poses a jurisdictional question, said Harper.
"The allegations were that the actual deaths were in Madison Parish," said Harper. "They would have some possible jurisdiction but the law here has provisions involving the continuation of a crime."
He said if Seale is tried again it will continue to be "a collaborative effort. Several different law enforcement agencies investigated the matter back then and more investigations were done in recent times. The decision was made to proceed in federal court last year because we felt that was the best opportunity for success."
But "we didn't anticipate this development" concerning the appeals court decision to overturn the conviction. "The U.S. Attorney, the Justice Department, the state Attorney General, everyone, is now trying to figure out the best way to continue."
"My office was kept advised of the recent investigation and trial," said Harper, "but we don't have many of the documents, statements taken in the investigations, and Grand Jury information. I wasn't able to attend the trial because I was subpoenaed as a witness and precluded from being the court room."
Harper, whose district includes Adams, Franklin, Amite and Wilkinson, said he "obviously would want all of the information available to utilize if we do take the case. We would have to rely heavily on the federal government for the investigative and other information we don't have."
He said he was unsure what it would cost to try Seale, but said it would be significant.
Seale was first charged in the murders on Nov. 6, 1964, but quickly released. Federal prosecutors said the charges were dropped at that time because local law officials were in collusion with the Klan.