Attorneys for a reputed Ku Klux Klansman charged with kidnapping in the 1964 slayings of two black men are opposing the government's efforts to keep jury selection secret and to sequester jurors during trial.
James Ford Seale, 71, has pleaded innocent to federal kidnapping and conspiracy charges in the May 2, 1964, abduction of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore.
The teenagers were hitchhiking in Meadville when they were grabbed and beaten, allegedly by Klansmen, and then drowned in the Mississippi River, according to FBI reports.
One of Seale's public defenders, Dennis Joiner, responded in court papers last week to requests from prosecutors that potential jurors be questioned individually, that the final phases of jury selection be closed to the public, that jurors names be kept secret and that the jury be sequestered for the duration of the trial.
Joiner said allowing such "extreme measures" would prejudice jurors and violate Seale's right to a fair trial.
U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate scheduled a hearing on those issues for Thursday.
The government said the case had been the subject of extensive news coverage and the selection of a jury should be held out of the limelight. The U.S. attorney's office also said existing elements of the KKK might try to intimidate jurors.
Joiner said the government itself is to blame for the publicity.
"The government wants Mr. Seale's guilt to be established both through use of the media as a tool, and by use of extraordinary procedural measures to amplify the 'mystique' of this trial."
He also discounted any risk to jurors.
"The KKK is no longer a threatening or viable instrument of terror in Mississippi, and although racism admittedly still exists to a degree in Mississippi and elsewhere in the United States, the racial climate here comes nowhere close to the adverse climate that existed 43 years ago when this crime was committed," Joiner said in his motion.
Seale faces an April 2 trial. If convicted, he could receive life in prison.