Jury finally brings justice for White

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 1, 2003

It took 37 years to bring Ernest Avants back to trial for the murder of Adams County resident Ben Chester White.

And it took a jury just three hours Friday to decide Avants’ fate.

Although denied a chance to hear much of the evidence that showed the killing was a hate crime, federal jurors still convicted Avants on charges of aiding and abetting White’s murder in the Homochitto National Forest in 1966.

Email newsletter signup

Prosecutors said the murder was part of a plot by Avants and two conspirators &045; both of whom are now dead &045; to lure Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Natchez so he could be killed.

&uot;It may have been justice delayed, but justice is not denied,&uot; U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton said after the verdict.

The Avants trial was not the first Civil Rights-era case to go back to the courtroom &045; and it may not be the last. It was not the most publicized, lacking the galvanizing images of four little girls killed in a Birmingham church bombing or of Medgar Evers’ widow Myrlie pleading for justice.

But the Avants case was the first federal murder trial involving a civil-rights-era killing &045; and the first conviction.

It proves that Mississippi is a different place than it was four decades ago, despite the stereotypes that linger in other parts of the country.

It proves that a Mississippi jury can bring a verdict in a Civil Rights trial even so many years after the crime.

And it proves, once and for all, that justice can be served on behalf of Ben Chester White, a gentle man who went so innocently to his death at the hands of men who thought his only transgression was the color of his skin.