James Ford Seale, a reputed member of the Ku Klux Klan, was sentenced today to three life terms in prison for his role in the abduction and murder of two black teenagers in Mississippi in 1964.
Seale was convicted in June of kidnapping and conspiracy in the deaths of Henry Dee and Charles Moore, both 19, in what may have been one of the last of the Klan cold cases to reach trial. Seale's alleged accomplice, Charles Edwards, was the state's star witness.
Since 1989, a number of civil rights era cases have been reopened. Seven states have re-examined 29 killings and 22 people have been convicted.
The last civil rights era conviction was the 2005 conviction of Edgar Ray Killen, accused of the 1964 killing of three civil rights workers, which was depicted in the movie "Mississippi Burning."
Ironically, it was during the search for those three civil rights workers that the bodies of Dee and Moore were found tied to a Jeep engine block at the bottom of the Mississippi River near Natchez.
According to FBI documents at the time, Edwards admitted in 1964 that he and Seale had kidnapped and beat the two teens, but he denied having anything to do with their deaths. Seale, who was arrested in 1964, was released after police said they did not have enough evidence to prosecute him.
Today, U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate called Seale's crime "horrific" and told Seale, "Justice itself is ageless." Seale, now 72, dressed in an orange jumpsuit and shackled at the waist and ankles, did not say anything during his sentencing, The Associated Press reported.
Veteran ABC News producer Harry Phillips spent months investigating the case for "20/20" in 1999 and 2000. He pored through records, interviewed law enforcement officials and uncovered the identity of an informant who, in the months after the murders, told the FBI exactly what had happened.
As a direct result of the "20/20" report, the FBI and the U.S. attorney for Southern Mississippi reactivated the investigation into the murders for the first time in four decades. What follows is a reporter's notebook by Harry Phillips detailing the ABC News investigation.
By all accounts, it was a typically sultry afternoon in tiny Meadville, Miss., on May 2, 1964, the day that two 19-year-olds, Henry Dee and Charles Moore, vanished while walking along a highway on the edge of town.
As far as anyone knew, Dee and Moore had no enemies, and they did not have any connection with the burgeoning civil rights movement. They'd never done anything to pique the ire of the notoriously racist and violent White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, many of whom lived in the rural settlements across Franklin County.
Around Meadville, Dee and Moore were just known as average, law-abiding young black men.
But these were not average times in Mississippi. The civil rights struggle had become a virtual war, defined by the white supremacist KKK taking on African-Americans and anyone who sought to end racial discrimination.
Ratcheting up the tension, civil rights organizations had just announced Freedom Summer for 1964, a bold initiative to bring activists into the Deep South and register black voters for the coming presidential and congressional elections. Mississippi was bracing for what would become the worst summer in a most painful chapter of American history.