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THE ASSASSINATION OF MEDGAR EVERS

Medgar Evers was a leader in the civil rights movement in Mississippi until he was shot in the back while standing in his own driveway, just after midnight in June of 1963. The murder weapon, a 1918 vintage rifle, was recovered along with a clear fingerprint and the fatal bullet. The FBI agent who conducted the investigation linked the rifle and fingerprint to a former U.S. Marine, Byron De La Beckwith. Thirty years after an all-white jury decided the Scottsboro cases, an all-white jury took up the case of the man who assassinated Medgar Evers.

Although the amount of physical evidence was overwhelming, the prosecution faced a jury unsympathetic to the civil rights movement, including the prosecutor himself, who told the jury, "Evers was engaged in things that were contrary to what you and I believe in." The defense capitalized on such sentiment, and a deadlocked jury was the result, 7 to 5 for acquittal. The second trial produced another deadlock, this time four out of eight jurors favoring acquittal. Beckwith was released, and his hometown of Greenwood, Mississippi, celebrated by appointing him an auxiliary policeman with the authority to patrol black neighborhoods while carrying a gun.

Twenty-five years later, Evers's murder again attracted national attention. In the fall of 1989, the Clarion Ledger published secret documents from the Sovereignty Commission, a Mississippi state-funded agency that had intimidated and harassed civil rights workers from 1956 to 1973. Although the files were supposed to be sealed, documents were leaked demonstrating that the commission had worked for Beckwith's defense. Times had changed since Beckwith's first trial, and outraged people in Mississippi called for a new trial.

Beckwith, who was sixty-nine years old, faced a more vigorous prosecutor named Bobby DeLaughter in his 1990 trial. Although the transcripts from the original trials were "missing" from official records, Evers's widow had kept copies. The prosecutor worked to generate new evidence of Beckwith's guilt. For example, he located a 1990 Ku Klux Klan publication in which Beckwith boasted, "Killing that nigger gave me no more inner discomfort than our wives endure when they give birth to our children."

Beckwith's lawyers tried to prevent the trial from happening at all. They argued that Beckwith's right to a speedy trial had been violated by the long delay. Even though evidence like the bullet was missing, and many witnesses had since died, the Mississippi Supreme Court allowed the case to go forward, and their decision was upheld by the United States Supreme Court.

The jury selected for the 1990 trial looked little like the first jury; it contained eight African-Americans and four whites. Though many of the witnesses were elderly, their evidence was as powerful as it had been thirty years earlier. The case against Beckwith was sealed when a guard at the Louisiana State Penitentiary testified that while Beckwith was serving time for another crime, Beckwith told him that it was only his personal connections that prevented him from being imprisoned for "getting rid of that nigger Evers." The jury deliberated for five hours before returning a verdict of guilty, and Beckwith was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. The Evers case, which spanned twenty-seven years, shows that although justice has not always prevailed for African-Americans, Americans' views on racial justice have thankfully changed.

 

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TITLE: Law and Legal Services at CitiMall.com Online Shopping Mall

Law Category: Prepaid Legal Services, Law , Legal, Attorney, Advice, Firm, Search, Attorneys, Lawyers, Power of Attorney, Durable, Forms

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