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Supreme Court Won't Review '60s Kidnap Case

The Supreme Court on Monday let stand a lower court ruling that made it possible for federal prosecutors to charge a former member of the Ku Klux Klan with a 40-year-old kidnapping.

The high court turned down a request by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to decide if too much time had elapsed for prosecutors to try James Ford Seale for the 1964 kidnapping of two black teenagers. That left a lower court ruling in place that had allowed the federal kidnapping charge to proceed.

A district court in Mississippi had said there was no statute of limitations under the law under which Seale was charged, and other federal law permitted any offense punishable by death to be prosecuted no matter how much time has elapsed. In 1964, kidnapping was punishable by death in cases where the victim was harmed.


Prosecutors maintained Seale and another man kidnapped Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, both 19, in southern Mississippi, beat them up and threw their weighted bodies into the Mississippi River. The teens' bodies were found in 1964.

Seale and Charles Marcus Edwards were briefly charged in the murders, but prosecutors said the charges were dropped because local law enforcement officials were connected to the Klan. Until 2005, it was believed that Seale had died. Now 73, he was convicted in 2007 and is serving a life sentence.

Justices John Paul Stevens and Antonin Scalia disagreed with the court's decision not to hear the case, saying it could affect other important cases. Some 5th Circuit judges had said as many as two dozen investigations from the era could be affected by the high court's decision, though the circuit's chief judge disagreed.

"A prompt answer from this court will expedite the termination of this litigation and determine whether other similar cases may be prosecuted," Stevens wrote.


Stevens and Scalia noted that the death penalty was unconstitutional for more than 20 years because of two major court rulings. A three-judge panel in the 5th Circuit had ruled changes in the law since 1964 meant the statute of limitations had passed and threw out Seale's conviction.

But when the whole 5th Circuit heard the case, it split on a decision 9-9 and asked the Supreme Court to decide the matter.

In other actions, the court will decide whether the National Labor Relations Board, which investigates claims of unfair labor practices, can make decisions with only two members in place. The board normally operates with five people.

The NLRB has had three vacancies for more than a year because Democrats, who took control of Congress in 2006, refused to confirm the nominees of former President George W. Bush.

But the NLRB has continued to take action, which has included issuing about 400 decisions in the past 16 months.

Separately, the Supreme Court seemed unlikely Monday to get involved in a dispute over fees paid to mutual fund investment advisers.

Investors in Oakmark Mutual Funds filed a lawsuit saying that the mutual fund's investment adviser Harris Associates charged excessive fees. Although the funds outperformed virtually all other similar funds, Harris charged the investors in the Oakmark funds roughly twice as much as the company's other clients. Lower courts have rejected the claims.

During oral arguments, Chief Justice John Roberts and Scalia said investors have the option of moving their money into other investments if they think the fees being charged are too much.

From NPR and wire service reports

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