Nearly 30 years after two all-white juries failed to convict admitted white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 murder of Mississippi civil rights worker Medgar Evers, Mr. De La Beckwith is back in court facing a third trial on the same charges.
Mr. Evers, the 37-year-old field secretary for the Mississippi chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, had just returned home from a meeting when he was ambushed in the driveway of his Jackson home in the early morning hours of June 12, 1963.
The killer escaped the scene, leaving his rifle behind. But 10 days later, police arrested Mr. De La Beckwith and charged him with the murder. Prosecutors said Mr. Evers was killed with Mr. De La Beckwith's hunting rifle, which bore the suspect's fingerprint on its telescopic sight. Mr. De La Beckwith, who claimed he was at home in Greenwood, Miss., 90 miles away, at the time of the murder, was tried twice before all-white juries in 1964, with both cases ending in hung juries. In 1989, the indictment against him was dismissed.
That this case is being tried again is due to the extraordinary efforts of a young Jackson prosecutor named Bobby DeLaughter, who was only 9 at the time of the murder and did not even hear Medgar Evers' name until he finished law school at the University of Mississippi. In 1989, while conducting an investigation of purported jury tampering in Mr. De La Beckwith's second trial, Mr. DeLaughter became so fascinated by the Evers murder that he launched a new investigation. Mississippi has no statute of limitations on murder.
Mr. DeLaughter reviewed the old evidence still available: The murder weapon and the fingerprint found on the rifle's scope, witnesses who placed Mr. De La Beckwith in the vicinity of the murder and his record of antagonism toward blacks. The prosecutor also found new witnesses, including people who claim they saw the suspect near the Evers home the night of the murder and others who say he boasted of killing Mr. Evers afterward.
Medgar Evers' murder marked the first of the political assassinations that jolted the nation in the 1960s. Mr. De La Beckwith's two previous trials before all-white juries focused national attention on the inequities of the criminal justice system in Mississippi. This time, eight of the 12 jurors hearing the case are black -- a direct result of the civil rights movement Mr. Evers gave his life for. This jury should produce a credible verdict.