By refusing to review the case, the justices left in place the trial judge's decision to let the prosecution go forward more than 40 years after the crimes, despite questions about a five-year statute of limitations on kidnapping.
James Ford Seale was accused in the slayings of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, kidnapped by the KKK while hitchhiking near Meadville, Miss., The Christian Science Monitor reported. The teenagers were taken to a remote area, beaten then thrown alive into the Mississippi River with their mouths and hands taped and their bodies tied to an engine block, the Monitor said.
The Mississippi courts refused to prosecute the case, but the U.S. Justice Department took it up in 2007. Seale was sentenced to three life sentences.
The rejection by the U.S. Supreme Court sets no precedent, complicating federal prosecutions of up to 22 defendants for civil rights crimes. Defense lawyers argue that after the Seale murders federal law changed to implement a five-year statute of limitations on kidnappings. Prosecutors argue that there has never been a limitation on kidnappings that led to murder, the Monitor said.
The high court rejection evoked an unusual protest from the court's most liberal member, Justice John Paul Stevens, and its most conservative, Justice Antonin Scalia.
Stevens, joined by Scalia, wrote, "A prompt answer from this court will expedite the termination of this litigation and determine whether other similar cases may be prosecuted."