Interview with Ernest Gilbert for "20/20" May 2000
The "20/20" report "Justice at Last," which aired in June 2000, investigated the unsolved 1964 slayings of two young black men -- Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore -- in Mississippi.
Six-and-a-half years later, a federal grand jury has indicted a reputed former Klansman for kidnapping with the aggravating circumstance of murder in the deaths. James Ford Seale, 71, pleaded not guilty this week to the crimes.
The following is a transcript of a "20/20" interview with Ernest Gilbert, the former FBI informant whose information helped shed light on a civil rights murder case that had gone cold.
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20/20: Mr. Gilbert, did you know that the FBI called you, "J.N. Thirty R."? They didn't use your name.
GILBERT: I didn't know… what, the number. But, I trust the FBI. You know, they, they have… tried their best to protect me uh… you know, in whatever fashion they could… since all of this took place, and uh--
20/20: Mr. Gilbert? Did you… did you tell the truth when you went to the FBI and told the FBI what the killers had told you?
GILBERT: Well, I wouldn't a had any reason to lie because I knew I was putting my life on the line when I did it.
20/20: Why did you think you were putting your life on the line?
GILBERT: Well, it, it… from what you already know about these people, if they had ever known for sure, and believe me, they had me set up to, to be killed, not once but several times. And, the only, the only thing I can tell you about that is that… somebody… in the higher powers… always was there to push me out of the way, because --
20/20: To protect you?
GILBERT: What else can you say? Because, I know for a fact, you know, uh that… that they had fully intended to kill me because, evidently I was the only person that could've brought this about. They even… they even went so far as to… I think they tortured one of their own members that was involved in the thing. Uh, I, when I say "torture" now, I was told that, by somebody, that uh, he cried, and cried, and cried. They didn't kill him but, they thought he was the one that had told it.
20/20: Well, tell me, what kind of men were James Ford -- what kind of men were James Seal, and Jack Seal, and the rest of them?
GILBERT: You tell me. Uh, how, how do you explain something like that? How, how in the world can you explain uh, what… what kind of people is people that go out there and just… kill somebody just because they want to kill somebody? Why? I mean, they didn't have any cause. Nobody had a cause to kill those two kids. I call 'em kids because they wasn't but nineteen years old. And they didn't know anything. But, they was determined to kill somebody. So, I guess that satisfied their appetite for a while.
20/20: Did they kill those two boys just because of the color of their skin?
GILBERT: Why else? I mean, tell me any other reason than that they were black. Any other reason. You give me any other reason why they would want to kill those boys, just because they, you know. I, I don't know what's in those men's hearts. I don't have that kind of heart.
20/20: Two of the men are still alive. Should they go to prison for what they did?