Read the Full '20/20' Transcript

(VO) Actually, the confession took up about a third of the trial transcript. But if Dawson didn't remember that, he did recall confronting a black juror during deliberations.

JOHN DAWSON

I asked one of them niggers one day, I said, `How you know he's guilty?' He says, `They say he is.' They say? Well...(censored by network)…I could have said it, you could have said that, it don't make it true.

ABC NEWS

(VO) We asked Dawson, was he a member of the Ku Klux Klan?

JOHN DAWSON

Nope. Now, you may get some people say I was, but I tell it to you or anybody else to prove it that I was.

ABC NEWS

(VO) We took up the challenge and found records from this bank in Natchez dating back to 1965. A signature card revealed that John Dawson was a signing officer for the United Klans of America, Realm of Mississippi. Several cancelled checks bear his signature and the imprint of the Klan. The signature appears to match one on a 34-year-old hotel reservation, which includes the address where John Dawson lives to this day. We paid him another visit, but this time the reception wasn't as friendly.

(OC) (At Dawson's front door) Hello, Mr. Dawson, my name is ABC News, I'm with ABC News. And we have cameras. Mr. Dawson?

(VO) There was no retrial of James Lloyd Jones. In the case of Claude Fuller, there was no trial at all. We found out why in those boxes of court records. It seems Jones and Fuller later claimed they were physically unable to endure a rigorous murder trial. They gave the identical excuse of ulcers and arthritis. Incredibly, the judge agreed, ordered the charges withdrawn, and set Jones and Fuller free.

Ernest Avants was also freed after a brief trial ended with a jury finding him not guilty.

(OC) Just recently, the FBI discovered a key piece of evidence, another confession by James Lloyd Jones, one given at a preliminary hearing here at the courthouse in Natchez. And lately, even more lost court documents have been turning up. In this document dug up by the Clarion Ledger, Ernest Avants confirms he was there on the bridge the night Ben Chester White was murdered.

JERRY MITCHELL, REPORTER, THE CLARION LEDGER

It showed that Avants showed up at the sheriff's doorsteps, was frightened.

ABC NEWS

(VO) And made his admission to the sheriff, Odell Anders and county attorney Edwin Benoit (ph).

JERRY MITCHELL

Here you have a confession to -- not only to the sheriff, but to the prosecutor in the case, and they don't use it.

ABC NEWS

(VO) The prosecutor Benoit is deceased. But he told the FBI he didn't use the confession in part because avants had been drinking when he gave it. The sheriff Anders is still alive, but declined to give us an interview. We had other questions for him: about this letter from the FBI to the governor of Mississippi and at least two other independent FBI reports naming him as a secret member of the Ku Klux Klan. In the past, Anders has denied it. As for the suspects, Claude Fuller and James Lloyd Jones both lived out their lives and died free men. We found Ernest Avants last August living in a trailer home parked in the tiny southern Mississippi town of Bogue Chitto.

ERNEST AVANTS

I can't hardly believe this.

ABC NEWS

Ernest Avants was happy to sit down and talk. Tried and acquitted 33 years ago for the murder of Ben Chester White, he thought he was home free. But 20/20 uncovered something that was about to give Ernest Avants the surprise of his life.

ANNOUNCER

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