U.S. Attorney Donald Washington pledges full review of Frank Morris murder
by Stanley Nelson - posted Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008 @ 4:29 pm
U.S. Attorney Donald Washington of Lafayette has pledged a full review of the 1964 murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris.
"We're taking a fresh look at this 43-year-old case," he said. "I've already asked the FBI to inquire into additional areas."
Washington and his staff met for six hours in Lafayette on Friday with Syracuse University law professors Janis McDonald and Paula Johnson to discuss Morris' murder. A group of volunteer law students at the university, under the direction of the two professors, has been researching Morris' case since last spring.
His announcement follows his recent receipt of an assessment of the case generated out of the FBI's Alexandria field office. That work began in May.
"As of today, the bureau has gone through all the documents," said Washington. "Now I want to see them. We've asked to see the entire stack. We've ask for everything because we want to make sure we don't head in the wrong direction."
Morris' case file is said to amount to about 800 pages.
"We will look at all of the material created in 1964 and 1965 during the FBI investigation into Mr. Morris' murder," said Washington. "A full investigation has to be done and then a decision as to whether charges can be brought by the U.S. attorney's office."
Morris' case is one of dozens of unsolved Civil Rights-era murders that the U.S. Department of Justice is presently reassessing. But Morris' case has now moved from the assessment stage by FBI agents to the lap of the U.S. Attorney.
"Hopefully this new look will lead us to Frank Morris' killers and maybe other things," said Washington. "We had a couple of meetings in my office with the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in Washington, which owns the case."
Washington said his office has the responsibility of "both assessing the case and asking the FBI to do further work to investigate for the proof that would be needed in a court of law. That has already begun."
He said the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department "will have the final say on whether federal charges can be brought."
""Our office will work with the criminal sections of the Justice Department to investigate and assess the likelihood of requesting Grand Jury indictments to living defendants," he said. "Of course, we have to fully look into federal statutes that were in effect in 1964 and certainly we have to find viable defendants who are still alive."
Washington has served as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana since 2001. The district includes Concordia and 41 other parishes, including five judicial divisions, two manned offices, and the cities of Shreveport, Monroe, Alexandria, Lake Charles and Lafayette.
Morris may have been a target of a secret Klan organization known as the Silver Dollar Group, organized at the Vidalia Shamrock in 1964. This group of about 20 Klansmen wanted to continue violent acts even though the leader of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Sam Bowers of Laurel, Miss., had ordered a 90-day moratorium on such acts after hundreds of FBI agents invaded Mississippi. At that time the White Knights were the dominant and most violent of all Klan organzations.
During the early morning hours of Dec. 10, 1964, Morris' shop was set on fire by two men who Morris saw and apparently knew although he may have never identified them by name. There is a possibility that as many as four men were on the scene that night.
The Klansmen who made up this loosely-formed, militant Silver Dollar Group, included law enforcement personnel, with members from Concordia and the Natchez area. This group is also believed responsible for the murders of two other men -- Joe-Ed Edwards, a Vidalia Shamrock porter who has been missing since July 1964, and Wharlest Jackson, an Armstrong employee who was the victim of a car bomb on Feb. 27, 1967.
Another man, George Metcalfe, also an Armstrong employee and a Natchez NAACP officer like Jackson, survived a car bomb in the plant parking lot but was seriously injured. The Aug. 27, 1965, attack on him is also believed to have been the work of the Silver Dollar Group.
Law enforcement involvement in these attacks, and possibly other crimes, will also be looked at, said Washington.
Although the scope of the investigation is centered on Morris, it is possible that crimes by the Silver Dollar Group and by some of its members individually were numerous and included murders, beatings, and arson.