Residents react to TV show on murders

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 29, 1999

With racial epithets flying, the national spotlight shined on Adams County Monday night revealing lingering unsolved crimes. A national television audience heard first hand about several decades-old unsolved murders from the Civil Rights Era on ABC’s television show “20/20.” Much of the hour-long show was devoted to the 1966 murder of Ben Chester White, an Adams County handyman.

White was kidnapped and shot to death. Three men were charged in the murder: James Lloyd Jones, Claude Fuller and Ernest Avants.

None were convicted and only one, Avants of Bogue Chitto, is still living. Avants is now the subject of an FBI inquiry into the case. Although he was acquitted in 1967, federal charges may be pending since the murder allegedly happened on federal property.

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Avants still denies his involvement in the murder but concedes, “if I was tried now … hell, I’d be convicted.”

During the interview, Avants’ beliefs spewed forth as he described the turbulent 1960s.

“The Jews owned Adams County, the Catholics ran it, and the n- – – – -s enjoyed it,” he said on the program.

Reaction to Avants’ fiery language and the subsequent reopening of White’s murder case was strong.

“Even hearing (racist language) made me angry,” said Mamie Mazique, who attended portions of the 1967 murder trials.

She said many people knew it was impossible during those times for a white to be convicted of killing a black. “You knew (the trial) was something that was set up — something that they could not win,” Mazique said.

Ray Colter, who served as an alternate juror in Jones’ trial that ended in a hung jury, said he felt the program accurately depicted the case.

“I thought it was pretty straight forward,” Colter said. “Unfortunately that’s the way it was. I think it was definitely a miscarriage of justice.”

Although as an alternate Colter was not allowed to vote, he said as far as he was concerned the evidence against Jones was clear.

“There’s no doubt,” he said. “I would have voted guilty.”

Longtime civil rights advocate Charles Evers of Fayette said Avants’ comments and the fact that White’s case is unsolved were a “terrible” thing. Evers’ brother, Medgar Evers, was murdered in 1963. His killer, Byron De La Beckwith

, was brought to justice in 1994.

Charles Evers tried to find a bright side in Monday’s program. “Maybe we’ll get some of those guys,” he said. “They just need to try (Avants) and give him life or maybe the electric chair. He’s not too old to die.”