An elderly white man in the southern state of Mississippi faces federal charges of kidnapping and conspiracy in connection with the 1964 murders of two African-American men. The case is the latest in a series of prosecutions brought by the government to solve racially-motivated crimes from the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s. National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
The suspect now under arrest is James Seale, 71, from Mississippi. Prosecutors say Seale was a reputed member of the white supremacist organization known as the Ku Klux Klan and was part of a group of whites that kidnapped two 19-year-old black men in May of 1964.
The two victims, Henry Dee and Charles Moore, were taken to a nearby forest, tied to a tree and beaten.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales describes what happened next:
"Dee and Moore were beaten by their captors, then transported and finally forcibly drowned by being thrown into the old Mississippi River, tied to heavy objects that allegedly included an engine block, iron weights and railroad ties," he said. "These allegations are a painful reminder of a terrible time in our country, a time when some people viewed their fellow Americans as inferior."
The bodies of the two men were found months later and James Seale and another man were initially arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), on murder charges in November of 1964. But local authorities declined to prosecute the two suspects and the case was dropped.
The case was reopened in 2000 after previously uncovered documents indicated the murders of the two black men took place on federal land, allowing the FBI and the Justice Department to once again pursue the case.
A brother of one of the victims, Thomas Moore, pressed federal investigators to reopen the case after he found out that the main suspect, James Seale, was still alive. Seale's family had claimed for years he was dead.
FBI Director Robert Mueller notes that the kidnapping and conspiracy charges against Seale are only allegations at this point that must be proven at trial.
But Mueller says federal officials remain committed to prosecuting civil rights era murder cases that have remained unsolved for decades.
"These tragic murders are from among the darkest page of our country's history," he said. "And while sadly we cannot right the wrongs of the past, we can pursue justice to the end, and we will, no matter how long it takes until every living suspect is called to answer for their crimes."
In recent years, authorities in Mississippi and Alabama have won convictions in several notable civil rights cases from the past including a 1963 church bombing in Alabama that killed four black girls and the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi.