Sheriff: FBI inquires about murder case

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 27, 1999

FBI agents have begun an inquiry into the decades-old murder of a black Adams County handyman.

Sheriff Tommy Ferrell confirmed this week that FBI officials have been in contact with his office concerning the 1966 murder of 65-year-old Ben Chester White.

&uot;I talked to (FBI agents) Wednesday and also several weeks ago,&uot; Ferrell said Friday.

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An FBI official in Jackson would not confirm whether such a probe was under way.

White’s murder is one of dozens of such cases involving black victims throughout the South during the Civil Rights Era that were never solved. Many of the cases are being reexamined in an effort to see justice served, even if it is decades late.

In June of 1966, White was kidnapped off Liberty Road, taken into the Homochitto National Forest and shot more than a dozen times. His bullet-ridden, decapitated body was dumped near Pretty Creek.

&uot;(The defendants) knew White,&uot; Ferrell said, adding that the men all worked together. Apparently, &uot;they did it as a lark.&uot;

Three men were arrested for White’s murder: James Lloyd Jones, Claude Fuller and Ernest Avants. Jones’ trial ended with a hung jury.

Fuller, who Ferrell said agreed to testify against the other two men, never had a trial. Both Fuller and Jones have since died.

An Adams County jury found Avants not guilty, Ferrell said.

&uot;His defense was that he was younger than the other men, and he felt threatened into staying,&uot; Ferrell said. &uot;(The defense) convinced the jurors that White was already dead before Avants was forced (by the other men) to shoot him.&uot;

Avants still lives in Lincoln County and could not be reached for comment. His defense attorney at the trial, Claude Pintard of Natchez, would not comment on the case. Many of the others involved in the original cases have died. Ferrell said he was unclear what, if any, charges could ever be filed now.

&uot;(Avants) can’t be charged with anything on the state level,&uot; Ferrell said. &uot;I think all of the statutes of limitations have run out, and the only person left to try has been acquitted.&uot;

He believes a year-long investigation into such cases by the ABC program &uot;20/20&uot; scheduled to air Monday at 7 p.m. may have sparked the FBI’s renewed interest.

&uot;This case was not only solved, they had confessions,&uot; Ferrell said. &uot;The jury system just failed.&uot;