New witnesses, including a former Ku Klux Klansman, led to a new murder charge against an aging segregationist who twice escaped conviction in the 1963 ambush slaying of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.
Byron De La Beckwith, 70, of Signal Mountain, Tenn., was freed on $15,000 bail Tuesday for a Feb. 22 hearing on whether he should be returned to Mississippi to stand trial a third time.The retired fertilizer salesman, who flies the Confederate flag outside his home, was defiant during a court appearance in Chattanooga, Tenn.
"I'm going to resist tooth, nail and claw because I think all this is nonsense, poppycock and something to stir the people up . . . and incite the lower forms of life to force and violence against the country clubs," he said.
Beckwith's fingerprint was found on the rifle used by a sniper to kill Evers. He said the weapon was stolen from his home. Two all-white juries deadlocked in 1964 trials and the murder charge eventually was dropped.
"Justice can be only served if there is a final conclusion, once and for all," District Attorney Ed Peters said in announcing the indictment of Beckwith by a biracial grand jury in Jackson.
Peters said new witnesses, black and white, "have taken the courageous step of coming forward." He said their identities were being protected.
Assistant District Attorney Bobby DeLaughter, who led the new inquiry, said information from Delmar Dennis, a one-time Klansman who later became an FBI informant, helped bring the new indictment.
Dennis was quoted in a 1975 book on the Klan as saying Beckwith told him he shot Evers. DeLaughter said other new witnesses corroborated his story.
Investigators speaking on the condition of anonymity told The New York Times that other witnesses include two men who say Beckwith was in Jackson the night of the killing and attended a civil rights rally led by Evers.
That would contradict testimony in the 1964 trials from two white police officers who said Beckwith was not at the rally. Beckwith contends he was not in Jackson when Evers was shot in the back on his driveway after getting out of his car.
Evers, 37, was the field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the time of his death.