JACKSON, Miss. -- Sometime soon in the tiny east Texas community of Hooks, pastor Tim Mason plans to talk to his all-Black congregation at Cedar Grove Baptist Church about the power of forgiveness and redemption.
His words will come from his family's own wrenching experience of racial violence.
Mason's older cousin, Charles Eddie Moore, and a friend, Henry Hezekiah Dee, were brutally slain by Ku Klux Klansmen in rural southwest Mississippi on May 2, 1964. The two Black 19-year-olds were abducted, beaten and tossed into a muddy Mississippi River backwater while the Klan pursued false rumors that Black people were stockpiling weapons during a time of strict racial segregation.
This past week in Jackson -- 43 years later and more than 100 miles away from the abduction site in Meadville -- reputed Klansman James Ford Seale was convicted on one count of conspiracy and two counts of kidnapping. The charges were tied to the attacks on Dee and Moore, whose badly decomposed partial corpses were found more than two months after the teenagers disappeared.
Federal prosecutors said there is no time limit on bringing charges in a kidnapping case in which a victim dies. Attorneys for Seale, 71, say he'll appeal the conviction. His sentencing is set for Aug. 24, and he faces life in prison.
The government's star witness was confessed Klansman Charles Marcus Edwards, 73, who was granted immunity from prosecution. Besides revealing details of what happened to Dee and Moore, Edwards surprised courtroom spectators one day by apologizing to the victims' families.
"I can't undo what was done 30 years ago and I'm sorry for that. I ask for y'all's forgiveness for my part in this crime," said Edwards from the witness stand while jurors were out of the courtroom.
Moore's older brother, Thomas Moore of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Dee's older sister, Thelma Collins of Springfield, La., said later that they forgive Edwards. Collins said she also forgives Seale; Thomas Moore said it might be a while before he can do that.
"It's been a long journey," said Thomas Moore, an Army veteran who pushed authorities for years to reopen the long-ignored case.
Mason, who sat through most of the two-week trial, said few people in his church knew his cousin had been killed by the Klan until Seale was arrested on the federal charges in January.
Mason lives in Tyler, Texas, and commutes about 250 miles roundtrip, twice a week, to his church just outside Texarkana. He said he plans to talk to the 60-member congregation soon about the deaths of his cousin and his friend, and about the trial and Edwards' apology.
"I will tell them that, as a matter of position, my siblings and I have forgiven James Seale. We also have forgiven Charles Edwards," Mason, 59, said during a break in the trial.
This was the latest of nearly two dozen civil rights-era cold cases that prosecutors across the South have revived since the early 1990s. Seale's trial came at the same time Congress is considering setting aside $100 million to create a Justice Department unit to investigate unsolved racially motivated crimes that occurred before 1970.
Religion permeated the trial.
Prosecutors showed jurors a Klan constitution that included an oath of "Christian militancy" to fight Satan's "malignant forces." Members had to swear to keep all activities of the White supremacist group a secret.
Although Seale has long denied any connection to the Klan, Edwards testified they both belonged to a Klan chapter, or "klavern," led by Seale's late father. Edwards said he remained loyal to the Klan vow of secrecy until 2006, when prosecutors gave him the choice of accepting an immunity deal or going to jail.
Edwards said he is a longtime deacon at Bunkley Baptist Church, a position he held even while he was active in the KKK. He testified about his own part in the attacks on Dee and Charles Eddie Moore that started in Franklin County -- a rural, heavily wooded area where the Klan ran rampant decades ago.
Mason and his twin brother, Tom Mason, grew up in Franklin County, where their parents were sharecroppers and raised pigs. They lived a few miles from Thomas and Charles Eddie Moore, and the cousins spent summers together, fishing and occasionally swimming in a creek. They got to know Dee when all the Black high schools in the county were consolidated in the early 1960s.
Tom Mason now lives in Azusa, Calif., near Los Angeles, where he works as an estimator for Southern California Edison. Like his twin, he said he forgives Edwards and Seale.
"Our parents always taught us that you cannot hate, no matter how much you are hated," Tom Mason said. "This was based on their belief in Christ."
Edwards said he, Seale and other Klansmen abducted Dee and Charles Eddie Moore near an ice cream stand in Meadville and took them to the nearby Homochitto National Forest to ask them about the gun rumors. Edwards said Seale pointed a sawed-off shotgun at the teenagers while Edwards and others used tree branches to whip them until the young men said -- falsely -- that weapons were being stored in a Black church, Roxie First Baptist.
Edwards testified that he was the one who told other Klansmen they should question Dee. He said he suspected Dee might be in the Black Panthers because the young man had spent time in Chicago and often wore a black bandanna over his hair. Friends and relatives testified that the soft-spoken Dee covered his hair because it was straightened, or "processed," to resemble the styles of James Brown or Elvis Presley.
Edwards and Seale were arrested in November 1964 on state murder charges in the deaths of Dee and Charles Moore. Federal prosecutors now say the state charges were dropped because local law enforcement officers in 1964 were in collusion with the Klan.
Tim Mason, the pastor in east Texas, said he forgives Seale even without Seale asking for the blessing.
"For him to ask for forgiveness," Mason said, "he has to admit that he committed the atrocities."