US v. Seale

Decision Date17 March 2010
Docket NumberNo. 07-60732.,07-60732.
Citation600 F.3d 473
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. James Ford SEALE, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit



Tovah R. Calderon, Jessica Dunsay Silver, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Civ. Rights Div.-App. Section, Washington, DC, for U.S.

Kathryn Neal Nester, Asst. Fed. Pub. Def., George Lowrey Lucas, Sr. Lit. Counsel, Jackson, MS, for Seale.

Before DAVIS, SMITH and DeMOSS, Circuit Judges.

W. EUGENE DAVIS, Circuit Judge:

In this appeal, we consider several issues raised by James Ford Seale who was found guilty of two counts of kidnaping and one count of conspiracy to commit kidnaping, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1201(a), (c). For the following reasons, we AFFIRM Seale's conviction.


Seale was charged both with conspiring with unnamed members of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan ("KKK") to kidnap Henry Dee and Charles Moore and the kidnaping of Dee and Moore.

In 1964, Seale was a member of the Bunkley klavern, a local chapter of the KKK in Franklin County, Mississippi. Members of the Franklin County population feared that black militants or members of the Black Panther group were stockpiling guns to lead an insurrection. Dee, an African-American, was suspected of involvement in this activity.

On the morning of May 2, 1964, Charles Edwards, Clyde Seale,1 Archie Prather, and Curtis Dunn, all members of the KKK, met with Seale outside the Bank of Franklin in Meadville, Mississippi to positively identify Dee. When Dee left the bank, he met with his friend Moore, also an African American. Dee and Moore began hitchhiking; Seale picked them up and drove to Homochitto National Forest (the "Forest"). Edwards, Clyde, Prather, and Dunn followed them.

Upon arrival in the Forest, Edwards, Dunn, and Clyde beat Dee and Moore with tree branches in an effort to determine where the guns were stored. Dee and Moore told them the guns were in the First Baptist Church in Roxie, Mississippi (the "Church"). Edwards, apparently understanding that Dee and Moore would be killed, asked Dee if he was "right with the Lord." Edwards, Clyde, and Prather then departed to get a warrant to search the Church, and Seale and Dunn stayed with Dee and Moore in the Forest. The last time Edwards saw Dee and Moore they were alive and getting in the back of Seale's car. The Church was searched and no guns were found. After the search, Clyde and Prather took Edwards to his house. Clyde told Edwards to "keep his mouth shut" and that "everything would be taken care of," a statement Edwards understood to mean that Dee and Moore would be killed.

Seale later told Edwards what transpired after Edwards had left the Forest. Jack Seale ("Jack") and Ernest Parker met Seale at an unknown location. Dee and Moore were wrapped with duct tape and placed in the trunk of Parker's car. Dee and Moore were alive at this time. Seale, his father, and Parker then drove to an area on the Old Mississippi River known as Parker's Island, owned by Parker and his brother. Dee and Moore were taken from Mississippi to Louisiana via Highway 84, which connected to Highway 65, to reach Parker's Island. Specifically, to get to the island by car, the group had to cross the Old Mississippi River at Natchez and drive through part of Louisiana.2 Seale, Jack, and Parker then separately weighed down Dee and Moore with an engine block and scraps of metal, took them from Parker's Landing onto the Old Mississippi River in a small boat, and rolled them into the water to drown.

Two groups of human remains were recovered in July 1964, and another group of remains was recovered in October 1964. At trial, John Rogan, one of the people who recovered the remains, testified that one group was found up-river from Parker's Landing while the other group was found down-river from Parker's Landing. John Barnes, an engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers, testified that it was possible to launch a boat from an industrial complex in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and continue on the Old Mississippi River to the point where the bodies were found without leaving the state of Mississippi. Seale argues that this intrastate route was taken as opposed to the interstate route argued and accepted by the jury at trial.

On January 24, 2007, Seale was indicted. He was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit kidnaping in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1201(c) and two counts of kidnaping in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a). The defendant filed numerous pretrial motions, including a motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations, a motion to dismiss based on pre-indictment delay, a motion to suppress the defendant's 1964 statement to the FBI, and a motion in limine to exclude evidence of Seale's motive. After lengthy hearings, the district court denied these motions. At the close of the Government's case, Seale moved for judgment of acquittal, renewing his previous motions for dismissal. The court denied this motion. At the close of all the evidence, Seale renewed his motion for judgment of acquittal, which the district court also denied. The jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts in the indictment. The district court sentenced Seale to life imprisonment on each of the three counts. Seale timely appealed.


On appeal, Seale argued, among other issues, that his prosecution was time-barred by 18 U.S.C. § 3282. A panel of this court agreed, reversed the district court judgment, and rendered a judgment of acquittal. See United States v. Seale, 542 F.3d 1033 (5th Cir.2008). The Government filed a petition for rehearing en banc which was granted by this court and had the effect of vacating the panel opinion. See United States ex. rel. Marcy v. Rowan Cos., 520 F.3d 384, 389 (5th Cir.2008) (explaining that when this court grants a rehearing en banc, the panel opinion is vacated). Following argument, the en banc court was equally divided and the court nominally affirmed the district court's denial of the motion to dismiss. United States v. Seale, 570 F.3d 650 (5th Cir.2009). The appeal was returned to the original panel for consideration of the remaining issues raised by Seale.

Following the en banc court's decision, Seale filed a Motion to Certify Question of Law to the Supreme Court of the United States. The en banc court by majority vote granted the motion and certified the question to the Supreme Court. United States v. Seale, 577 F.3d 566 (5th Cir. 2009). However, the Supreme Court dismissed the certified question, with Justices Scalia and Stevens dissenting. United States v. Seale, ___ U.S. ___, 130 S.Ct. 12, ___ L.Ed.2d ___ (2009).

Accordingly, this panel now addresses the remaining issues raised by Seale in this appeal.


Seale contends first that the district court erred by denying his motion to dismiss based on the Government's delay in seeking an indictment.

During the months following the May 2, 1964 disappearances of Dee and Moore, federal law enforcement agents investigated the incident. Federal agents interviewed witnesses and potential suspects, obtained warrants to search for physical evidence, and sent divers to search for remains in the river. On November 6, 1964, Mississippi authorities arrested Seale and Edwards for the murders of Dee and Moore; however, on January 11, 1965, at the request of the Franklin County District Attorney, the charges were dismissed without prejudice. The United States obtained an indictment against Seale on January 24, 2007.

Seale argued to the district court that the Government's delay in bringing the indictment was in bad faith. After a hearing on the motion, the district court concluded that Seale's argument was not supported by the facts. Specifically, the district court found that the Government's delay was caused by its inability to establish federal jurisdiction for the kidnaping of Dee and Moore. In dismissing the motion, the district court ruled, "Once the Government determined that this court, a federal court, could have jurisdiction based upon newly discovered matters, then the Federal Government moved this litigation forward." The district court also found that Seale failed to prove that the delay caused him actual and substantial prejudice.

In reviewing a claim of due process violation on pre-indictment delay, the district court's factual determinations are reviewed for clear error; its conclusions of law, de novo. United States v. Avants, 367 F.3d 433, 441 (5th Cir.2004).

Although more than forty years elapsed from the date of the alleged crime to Seale's indictment, this fact alone does not establish a due process violation. The mere passage of time is insufficient to support a due process claim, even if the time lapse prejudiced the defense. Dickerson v. Guste, 932 F.2d 1142, 1144 (5th Cir.1991). To show an unconstitutional pre-indictment delay, a party must establish two elements: 1) the Government intended to delay obtaining an indictment for the purpose of gaining some tactical advantage over the accused in the contemplated prosecution or for some other bad faith purpose, and 2) that the improper delay caused actual, substantial prejudice to his defense. United States v. Crouch, 84 F.3d 1497, 1523 (5th Cir.1996) (en banc). The burden is on the defendant to establish both prongs. United States v. Jimenez, 256 F.3d 330, 345 (5th Cir.2001).

With respect to the first prong, Seale points to a Memorandum written by federal agents in the period shortly after Seale's arrest which concluded that "it would be more advantageous to present the matter to a Grand Jury at a later date." This, Seale maintains, is evidence that the Government's decision not to indict Seale for more than forty years was in bad faith. The Government, however, contends that Seale's reading of the Memorandum is incorrect; specifically, the Government argues that the reason behind its delay—to gain more information...

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