by Matt Saldaña
June 20, 2007
During her largely improvised closing argument, federal prosecutor Paige Fitzgerald stumbled upon one of the most poetic moments in the James Ford Seale federal kidnapping trial.
The two-week trial certainly had no shortage of poetry. Take, to begin, the battle of wits between Fitzgerald and Federal Public Defender Kathy Nester—each one listed beneath male lead attorneys on the criminal docket, but themselves the undisputed stars of a vigorous legal showdown (evidenced by each side’s decision to close with them).
Take U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate, magnanimous to jurors and witnesses and grindingly scrupulous to jurisprudence. Take the color of his skin—black—and the stumbling attempt by Nester’s former lead attorney, Dennis Joiner, to suggest that it would bias his judgment against Seale. (This, after decades of an explicit bias that white Mississippi judges and juries held to the benefit of white defendants in racial hate crimes.) Take, then, the mostly white jury in 2007—eight out of 12—and the two hours it took for them to send a 71-year-old white man to jail for kidnapping two black teenagers in 1964.
Take the unexpected, blunt and apparently sincere courtroom apology of the prosecution’s star witness—confessed Klansman and co-conspirator Charles Marcus Edwards—to the families of the victims whose deaths he helped ensure. And finally, take the open rejoicing of a largely African American gallery—composed of the victims’ families, civil-rights heroes, activists and observers—when a court aide read aloud the final poetic act of justice: three guilty counts.
[View the entire article at the Jackson Free Press.]