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franklin county times

De La Beckwith dead at 80

By Staff
CONVICTED n Byron De La Beckwith, left, is escorted from the Hinds County Courthouse in Jackson by Sheriff Malcolm McMillin, right, following his Feb. 5, 1994, conviction for the 1963 murder of NAACP leader Medgar Evers.AP photo.
JACKSON (AP) The death of Byron De La Beckwith, the convicted assassin of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, is the final chapter'' of a troubling story, Evers' brother said early Monday.
Beckwith, 80, died Sunday night after he was transferred from his jail cell to University Medical Center.
Barbara Austin, a hospital spokeswoman, said Beckwith entered the hospital at about 2 p.m. CDT. She could not elaborate on his ailment or the cause of death.
It's a matter for the coroner's office to determine,'' she said.
Hinds County Coroner Sharon Grisham-Stewart said an autopsy was scheduled at Mississippi Mortuary Services in Pearl. There was no immediate word on when the findings would be made public.
Evers, a 37-year-old NAACP field secretary who pushed for an end to segregation, had stepped out of his Oldsmobile when he was shot in the back on June 12, 1963. He was walking to his house with an armful of Jim Crow Must Go'' T-shirts.
Beckwith was convicted at a third trial in 1994 after two mistrials three decades earlier. After his conviction, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Charles Evers, a veteran civil rights activist, said in a phone interview with The Associated Press that the slaying haunted his family.
What do you say? Finally, it is all over,'' Evers said. I don't want to say anything negative about him because we know what he did.''
Beckwith's fingerprint was found on a deer rifle used to kill Evers. The gun was abandoned in the lot across the street. But the former fertilizer salesman insisted he was 90 miles away in Greenwood when Evers was murdered.
Two all-white juries deadlocked in trials in 1964. Twelve years ago, Evers' widow, Myrlie Evers Williams, asked for the case to be reopened, and Hinds County District Attorney Bobby DeLaughter agreed.
At the very beginning … we didn't have anything,'' DeLaughter said. The DA's file was nowhere to be found. We did not have the benefit of a trial transcript to know who the witnesses were. None of the evidence had been retained by the court.''
But DeLaughter and his officers stumbled across new evidence, including negatives from the crime scene and new witnesses who testified Beckwith had bragged to them about beating the system.''
The Clarion-Ledger, a Jackson newspaper, reported in 1989 that secret files of the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission show it aided Beckwith's defense in his second trial by screening potential jurors.
The Sovereignty Commission was a state agency formed to safeguard segregation in Mississippi.
The commission detailed jurors' racial views and their ancestry, and listed those likely to be fair and impartial,'' including a white Citizens' Council member. Fair'' jurors made the panel; those with improper thinking'' did not.
Charles Evers said when Beckwith was convicted in 1994 it was justice. It should have been done earlier.''
Beckwith was arrested Dec. 17, 1990, and when he stood in front of a new jury in 1994, he was 74 years old.
His prosecutors were armed with new evidence and a 127-page document claiming 21 errors were made in Beckwith's original trial. Also, eight of the 12 jurors were black.
Beckwith, a white supremacist, wore a Confederate flag pin on his lapel throughout the 15 days of jury selection, testimony and deliberation.
He was found guilty of murder and the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the decision in 1997.
Beckwith is survived by his wife and a son.