The third Concordia Parish grand jury in 13 months heard testimony Tuesday concerning the 48-year-old murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris.
Morris, 51, died in 1964 after at least two white men set fire to his shop while he was inside, according to Morris' comments to the FBI hours after the arson. He died four days later on Dec. 14.
The use of three separate grand juries may be a sign that the U.S. Department of Justice is using the panels as an investigative tool, which is typically how federal grand juries are used, according to reporter Jerry Mitchell of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. Mitchell has been writing about civil rights-era murders for almost a quarter century.
"Grand juries are helpful from an investigative standpoint because you can subpoena witnesses, documents and evidence," he said.
Mitchell also said that each of the three successive grand juries in Concordia may have been presented evidence involving more than one old homicide.
"If that's the case this is the first time that I know of it's been done with these civil rights-era cold cases," Mitchell said. "State grand juries are not typically used as investigative tools but rather in cases where evidence is presented and they are asked to either indict or not indict."
Mitchell said the longest federal grand jury probe into a civil rights-era murder occurred in Alabama from 1998-2000. Before handing down indictments, Mitchell said that grand jury investigated the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham in which four girls -- three age 14 and one 11-year-old -- were killed.
The FBI launched an intensive investigation into the Morris murder almost five decades ago before the case was closed in the late 1960s. In 2007, the bureau reopened the Morris case as part of an initiative to review more than 100 unsolved Civil Rights era murders across the South.
Two parish grand juries heard testimony about the Morris murder in 2011.
A parish grand jury is chosen every six months -- in April and October. A grand jury can be extended two months if needed, according to District Attorney Brad Burget, who noted that a special grand jury can be impaneled for up to one year.
The grand jury now serving, which handed down indictments in several current cases this week, also listened to witnesses testify concerning the Morris arson and possibly other civil rights-era cold cases on Tuesday.
The Justice Department, which is spearheading the grand jury probes, declined comment Tuesday on how long the cold case work will continue.
DOJ's Patricia Ann Sumner is the lead prosecutor in the case. She was named a special assistant district attorney in Concordia for the Morris case in February 2011.