MOBILE, Ala. -- A witness testified Wednesday that he and Klansman Henry Hays decided to hang a black man in March 1981 because they were upset about the mistrial of a black Chicago drifter accused of killing a white Birmingham policeman.
James Llewellyn 'Tiger' Knowles was flanked by security guards while he told the jury how he and Hays abducted 19-year-old Michael Donald, drove him to a remote area, beat him, slit his throat, then hanged him from a tree in Hays' Mobile neighborhood.
The murder triggered several weeks of racial demonstrations in the Alabama port city.
Knowles, who became a prosecution witness to avoid state murder charges, told the circuit court jury in the second day of Hays' capital murder trial that the pair set out on a Friday night 'with the purpose to hang someone.'
Knowles said he and Hays -- both admitted Ku Klux Klansmen -- were angry about the mistrial of a black Chicago man accused of killing a white police officer and had discussed 'what people would think if they found a nigger hanging from a tree in Movile County.'
Knowles said he and Hays got some rope, picked up a pistol from another Klansman identified as Matt Jones, then cruised downtown Mobile looking for a black victim. He said they spotted Donald after bypassing an elderly black.
'He (Donald) was by himself and seemed like a good vitcim because he was by himself and seculded,' Knowles said.
After forcing Donald into the car at gunpoint, Knowles said the young black kept repeating: 'Oh God, I can't believe this is happening.'
While driving to a remote area, Knowles said Hays talked about a wave of black youth murders in Atlanta and told Donald that could be his fate.
'Oh God no,' Knowles quoted Donald as saying. 'You can beat me, but please just don't kill me.'
Knowles said after stopping in a rural area near a truck route, Donald 'jumped' Hays. He said the three men strugged and Donald 'gave out and just laid there. He wasn't dead, he just laid there.'
Hays then put a noose around Donald's neck, Knowles testified, and when Donald started struggling again, they beat him with a tree limb until he collapsed.
After putting Donald in the trunk, Knowles said he asked Hays if the young black was dead.
Hays replied, 'I don't know, but I'm going to make sure,' then cut Donald's throat three times, Knowles testified.
Knowles said they drove back to Hays' house after the slaying, played cards with some friends and hung Donald's body from a tree across the street early the next morning. He said Donald's body was visible from Hays' front porch and another friend named Teddy Kizer remarked: 'Good job Tiger.'
Knowles said the reason Donald was killed was 'because he was black and to show the strength of the Klan and that they were still in Alabama.'
Marsal said Knowles was a pathological liar who had denied involvement in the death when first questioned by police and a grand jury. In his cross-examination, he accused Knowles of testifying against Hays to protect himself.
Knowles admitted lying to police and a county grand jury, but said he decided to tell the truth to FBI agents and a federal grand jury because his family and friends were disturbed by the investigation.
He said authorities told him they would recommend that he be spared the death penalty if he pleaded guilty and testified against Hays, but he had received no assurances he would receive a lighter sentence.