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.
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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.