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Florida reopens inquiry of 1964 race killing

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Wednesday asked authorities to take another look at a 1964 race-riot killing of a black maid.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gov. Jeb Bush on Wednesday asked state law enforcement authorities to take another look at a 1964 race-riot slaying of a black maid — a case in which charges against three white men were eventually dropped.

It is the second time has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review the notorious 41-year-old case.

Bush, in a letter to FDLE Commissioner Guy M. Tunnell, asked for “a review, investigation and determination” whether there is enough evidence to support charges against the three who were indicted — and allegedly confessed — but were never tried for the slaying of Johnnie Mae Chappell outside Jacksonville.

“We don’t need another investigation. We need to move forward and prosecute,” said Shelton Chappell, youngest of Johnnie Mae Chappell’s 10 children, who lives in Miami.

Bush spokesman Jacob DiPietre said the governor’s legal office had reviewed thousands of documents and done hundreds of hours of interviews. “He is asking them to reopen the case to determine whether additional evidence exists,” he said.

Chappell was shot during the March 1964 riots as black protesters demonstrated at hotels and restaurants demanding equal rights. She was not taking part in the protest.

Walking home from work
She had been walking home from her job as a maid for a white family when she allegedly was struck by shots fired from a passing car carrying four white men. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists Chappell as a civil rights-era martyr.

The four suspects were indicted but only one went to trial. A jury convicted the confessed shooter, J.W. Rich, of manslaughter, and he spent three years in prison.

Last year, in response to Bush’s first request for a review, the FDLE determined further prosecution was not warranted and no prosecution would be viable because of the time that had elapsed and scarcity of physical evidence. The state prosecutor concurred.

“We will examine all reports and documents and evidentiary material that is available and we will take any appropriate action that may be required,” the FDLE said in a statement Wednesday.