FBI probe of 1966 murder under way

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 29, 1999

FBI agents returned to Natchez Monday to investigate a murder 33 years after officials gave up hope of seeing justice served.

One day after officials from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Jackson confirmed they asked the FBI to launch a new inquiry into the 1966 murder of Ben Chester White, the probe has begun.

&uot;It’s been a flurry of phone calls,&uot; said Adams County Sheriff Tommy Ferrell. &uot;Everybody’s been calling.&uot;

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After White was kidnapped in 1966 off Liberty Road near an area called Bude Camp, his body was found near Pretty Creek in the Homochitto National Forest.

His body was riddled with bullets and decapitated from a shotgun blast.

Three men were charged, but no one was ever convicted. Of the defendants, only Ernest Avants is still living. Because he was found innocent of the charges in 1967, he can never again be charged by the state.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Lacy said the new inquiry hinges on whether the government can prove the murder occurred in the Homochitto National Forest, which is federal property.

The case gets more confusing because the U.S. Constitution prohibits &uot;double jeopardy&uot; – meaning a person cannot be tried again for the same crime if he is found guilty or not guilty.

Lacy said he believes that, hypothetically, a federal charge against Avants would not constitute double jeopardy. &uot;We did look into the statute about this before asking for the inquiry,&uot; he said.

Although Lacy would not discuss details of the White case or any possible charges, Ferrell said he believes it is simply a matter of establishing jurisdiction.

&uot;I don’t want to build false hope, but myself and the FBI are confident that (a federal charge against Avants) can be done,&uot; Ferrell said.

&uot;If they establish that the crime happened on government property, if a jurisdiction can be established, there will be a new charge.&uot;

White’s murder is the 18th case involving black victims from the 1960s that has been reopened in recent years, including several in southwest Mississippi.

Natchez police reopened the case of Wharlest Jackson in 1998. Jackson, a worker at Armstrong Tire and Rubber was killed when a bomb hidden beneath his truck exploded as he drove home from work in 1967. No one was ever arrested in the case.

In July, District Attorney Ronnie Harper asked the Mississippi State Highway Patrol to reopen a 1964 double murder case from Franklin County. The mutilated bodies of Henry Dee and Charles Moore, who were last seen near the Homochitto National Forest, were later found in a swamp outside Tallulah, La.