White racist faces third trial for 1963 murder: Beckwith case raises concern over civil rights, says Peter Pringle in New York

AS MUCH as any living American, Byron De La Beckwith is a symbol of Southern racism, a throwback to the grim days before the Civil Rights Act when white supremacists such as he put black people in constant terror of their lives.

Three decades ago Mr Beckwith was charged with killing a black man, but juries in two separate trials could not agree on the evidence and he was set free. This week, aged 73 and still espousing racist views, he appears on the same murder charge in a new trial that raises some troubling questions about whether Mr Beckwith's own civil rights are now being violated.

Although it would seem clear from the 30-year interval in prosecutions for the same crime that Mr Beckwith is being deprived of his right under the Sixth Amendment to a speedy trial, local politics has intervened. No official in the state judicial system of Jackson, Mississippi, where the crime was committed and the trial is being held, wants to stop the prosecution because the black community would be in uproar and the officials would be in danger of losing their elected positions. Half of Jackson's population is black.

The new trial also raises the question of double jeopardy. Mr Beckwith, who still pleads not guilty to the murder, appealed against the decision to reopen the trial on both grounds, but lost because there is new evidence.

In 1963, Mr Beckwith was charged with killing Medgar Evers, a 31-year-old black civil rights worker who was shot dead in front of his home in Jackson. A high-powered rifle found in the bushes near Evers' home was traced to Mr Beckwith and his fingerprints were found on the weapon's telescopic sight.

However, police officers testified that they saw Mr Beckwith in his home town of Greenwood, 100 miles from Jackson, on the night of the murder. All-white, all-male juries failed to reach verdicts in the two trials. The case was formally dropped in 1969.

In 1990, the charges were resurrected by the Mississippi state prosecutor after the local Jackson newspaper, the Clarion-Ledger, discovered there had been jury-tampering in the second trial. A now-defunct state agency that promoted segregation, the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, had screened the jury panel in Mr Beckwith's favour.

The prosecution is believed to have found at least two witnesses who will testify that after the earlier mistrials Mr Beckwith boasted of killing Evers. According to a book entitled Klandestine, about the Evers murder case, an FBI undercover agent in the Ku Klux Klan reported that Mr Beckwith had told a Klan meeting: 'Killing that nigger gave me no more inner discomfort than our wives endure when they give birth to our children.' The FBI agent, Delmar Dennis, has now been called to give evidence.

In the first trial Mr Beckwith, who became a hero in segregationist circles, was supported by white supremacist groups. Today he has court-appointed lawyers who are having trouble locating previous witnesses, some of whom are now dead. Original trial documents have been lost, they say.

Mr Beckwith's ranting against black people has not diminished, however. In a recent interview with the Boston Globe, he claimed he still had the support of 'country club' Mississippi - people who are 'tired of this crap the Jews, niggers and Orientals are stirring up'. He says his enemies are 'every colour but white and every creed but Christian'. Mixing of the races, he says, should be regarded as 'a capital crime, like murder is a capital crime'.

After the original trials, Mr Beckwith ran into trouble elsewhere for his racist activities. In 1973 he was arrested as he drove into New Orleans with a time-bomb in his car. He apparently intended to blow up the home of the local leader of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. He was convicted and served three years in solitary confinement in a Louisiana jail. For some reason the jury at the trial was composed of only five people, and the verdict was later declared unconstitutional and the conviction removed from the record. Mr Beckwith referred to the jury members as 'those five nigger bitches'.

(Photographs omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
News
people
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones