An Informant Talks: Part 2

ByABC News
January 26, 2007, 1:06 PM

— -- 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.

Part 2 of 2

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?

GILBERT: There again, it's up to the law. The law knows, you know. They know everything there is to know about this. Now, I'm talking about uh, the utmost, uttermost law in the, in this nation, knows about it. It's up to them. It's not up to me. It's, in God's eyes, yes. But, that is, that is the one thing I won't do, make perfectly clear here: There is a judgement. I don't know if you're a Christian or what you are, but every one of us, I don't care who you are, you're going to stand before Christ one day and that's the final judgement.

20/20: Well, two of the men, two of the men, two of the men -- [OFF CAMERA COMMENTS]

20/20: Mr. Gilbert, two of the men are still alive. Should they be brought to justice?

GILBERT: You tell me. You know how I feel about this. You, I have, I've already told you. I think everybody should be brought to justice that involves deliberately murdering somebody. I don't care if he's in the Klan, or if he's just out there robbing a bank, I think he ought to pay for his sin and his crime, myself.

20/20: Some people say, "It's been more than thirty years. Let those sleeping dogs lie."

GILBERT: I don't know. You know, it's just like this interview that we're doing right now. What's it going to do? Is it going to create -- is, is hatred going to rise again, from the black people, or the white people because of this interview? I have no idea. Don't think that I haven't really thought about this. It's a couple of times I've been very close to saying, "No, I'm not going to do this."

20/20: Well tell me, why, why did you decide to come forward publicly and give this information?

GILBERT: Because Harry asked me to [CHUCKLES].

20/20: No, but really.

GILBERT: Well, that, that's it. You, you, you ask him.

20/20: Well, tell me then, sir, is it, is it your conscience?

GILBERT: Well, it certainly is not because I'm getting paid to do it. You're not going to pay me anything are you?

20/20: No.

GILBERT: Okay. You going to pay me anything, Harry?

PRODUCER: No, sir.

GILBERT: I guess it's because God wants me to do it. That's the only if he didn't want me to do it I wouldn't be here. And, and believe me, I've come mighty close, two or three times. I prayed about this I, uh, uh just about constantly since it came up. And I've asked the Lord to be with me on this. And I, and I think the Lord would like to see justice done here on earth, but he's waiting. His justice is coming. Can you be forgiven for something like this? I don't know. They said the cross that he died to save us from our sins, and any man that, that goes to him with his sins, he'll forgive him. There's only one unpardonable sin and that's sinning against God, the Holy Ghost according to my Bible.

20/20: [OVERLAP] Mr. Gilbert Mm-hmm. Mr. Gilbert, what kind of guy, what, what kind of men were these five men?

GILBERT: You tell me. I don't have any name for that. I, I mean what can I say? What kind of men are these? How many people just setting here right now that Satan might get a hold of and, and use them to cause somebody else to be persecuted or die? I don't know.

20/20: Were they, were, were these friends of yours? Were they friends of yours?

GILBERT: I guess they were at that time.

20/20: Did you find it difficult to remain friends with them when you had this information?

GILBERT: You better believe it. I tried to there was one of those members that the one they had set up to kill me. And they did.

20/20: Well tell me this --

GILBERT: But, they was one of those members that I really liked. As a, you know from his outward being, not his inward being. I didn't know him that well. And he's dead now.

20/20: Well, I'm --

GILBERT: And, and I did everything I could even after all of this happened to help him.

20/20: Mr. Gilbert, I'm trying to imagine, here you are -- [OFF CAMERA COMMENTS]

20/20: Tell me, these five men who killed Moore and Dee were actually friends of yours, and you had gone to the FBI, told them what happened. Was it difficult for you to try and remain friends with them even though you knew in your heart that you had told the FBI what they did?

GILBERT: Was it difficult? You better believe -- it's difficult 'til this minute. Everything I've done in my life since then has been difficult to live with. And uh were they friends? Yes, they were. And, did I rat on my friends? Yes, I did. And uh --

20/20: Why did you feel --

GILBERT: [OVERLAP] I've got no, I've got nothing, I mean

20/20: Mr. Gilbert --

GILBERT: I, I, I don't know what I think, that if this story is put together right and it glorifies those two kids, then it's all worth it to me. But, if you try to glorify me, then, I just as soon you not never run this and it never happened. I'm not here to my God, I I, I don't want to be glorified in nothing. The only thing I want to do is, is try to make it up there where the Lord is uh, pretty soon because I'm not, I don't have many years left. You're seventy-five years old, you don't you don't have too much time left. And uh

20/20: Mr. Gilbert --

GILBERT: I can't, I can't explain to you, uh about, the question you asked me, about friendship. How do, how do you define friendship? I mean, really, how do you define friendship? I don't, I don't quite understand that.

20/20: All right.

GILBERT: I mean, they were acquaintances, we --

20/20: Tell me this, were they --

GILBERT: [OVERLAP] We were socially friends, I guess that's what you'd call it, I don't know. But the day that, that all of this took place how can you be a friend to a cold-blooded murderer? How, how do you do that? I can't, I can't tell you I was they were acquaintances. They were Klan members, and I was a Klan member. We belonged to the same organization.

20/20: Do you now regret being a member of the Klan?

GILBERT: You damn right I do. I would give anything there's no way I can change this. There's no way I can go back and change my life. I would give anything in the world if I had never heard the name of the Ku Klux Klan. AndI guess I was just the right age or something, that I got in it and just like right now, whatever I get into, I'll go all the way, you know, to try to do something about it. But I never told anybody to go out and kill nobody.

20/20: Do you regret the violence that occurred?

GILBERT: You better believe I regret the violence that occurred. Uh, why else would I be here? I regretted it This is, the case that you've got going here, you can not imagine the other things that took place in my life during this time. I'm not talking about just in the Natchez area, just in the, the area where I lived. It was all over the state.

20/20: Were there other murders? Were there other murders?

GILBERT: Of course there was other murders. Brutal murders. What about Philadelphia? Check into it.

20/20: That's the case of those three young men.

GILBERT: That's what I'm talking about.

20/20: [OVERLAP] The so-called "Mississippi Burning" case.

GILBERT: I've never seen the film.

20/20: Do you --

GILBERT: [OVERLAP] I don't know why I never did see it. I just never did see it.

20/20: Do you know who killed those three men?

GILBERT: I have no idea. I've got, you know, let me change that -- I've got an idea but that's all I've got. I don't, I can't say anything about anybody that I don't know for sure about. And, if they come and told me, "Yeah, we did it," then I'd tell you, "Yeah, I know those men." But I don't. Nobody ever came -- I saved one kid's life in Philadelphia, a black kid. I just happened to be there. And, and you know what his crime was?

20/20: [OVERLAP] What case was that?

GILBERT: You know what his crime was? They said he was flirting with a white girl in a jewelry store. They arrested him and put him in jail. And they, I happened to be in Philadelphia at a Klan meeting. Just happened to be there. And this kid was turned a-loose and let out of jail and, was picked up by me and several Klan members.