U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate denied a motion last Wednesday from prosecutors in the James Ford Seale federal kidnapping trial to admit statements from Ernest Gilbert, a deceased FBI informant who had information linking Seale to the killings of Charles Moore and Henry Dee. Wingate also denied several motions from defense attorneys, including one to suppress Seale's statements made during the two-hour drive from Franklin County to Jackson following his arrest on Nov. 6, 1964.
Prosecutors had argued that Seale forfeited his right to cross-examine Gilbert, who never testified in court and died in 2003, because he had prevented Gilbert from taking the stand out of fear and intimidation.
"It was common knowledge that if the identity of (Gibson) was revealed, he would be killed," said Reesie Timmons, a former FBI agent in McComb, Miss. Timmons described James Seale, his brother Jack, and his father Clyde as "killers" who were feared by fellow Klansmen.
"There's no evidence that Gilbert ever saw my client's face after 1964," public defender Kathy Nester argued last Wednesday.
In denying the motion to admit Gilbert's statements, Wingate noted that Gilbert never testified even after he exposed himself as an FBI informant on ABC's "20/20" in 2000. "The court recognizes that (Gilbert) was assured he would never have to testify, and that the witness was filled with dread and fear—until he finally made statements on 20/20," Wingate said.
FBI Special Agent Edward Putz, who recorded a verbatim exchange between Seale and FBI special agent Lenard Wolf on the day of Seale's arrest, also took the stand. In Putz's report, Wolf told Seale, "We know you did it, you know you did it, the Lord above knows you did it."
"Yes, but I'm not going to admit it; you are going to have to prove it," Seale said.
In denying the motion to suppress the statement, Wingate cited a lack of evidence that the FBI agents coerced Seale, along with inconsistent testimony from Seale's friend Jack Davis, a former member of the Americans for the Preservation of the White Race, who took the stand last week to describe alleged bruising on Seale's ribs.
Wingate also denied two motions from the defense to dismiss the trial, one for lack of a speedy trial and one for spoiled evidence. In both motions, the defense argued that Seale would receive an unfair trial because of the 42-year gap between Moore and Dee's deaths and Seale's prosecution.
"The court finds that the defense's argument of intentional delay (by the government) does not exist in this case, that the argument is at odds with the facts. ... Once (the government) found that they could prosecute, they did," Wingate said.
Wingate granted the prosecution's motion for an anonymous jury, and will decide whether to sequester the jury May 29, when the trial is scheduled to begin.
"I want to see how the jury pool looks … and (establish) a further gauge of the publicity this trial might generate," Wingate said.