U.S. Attorney urges witnesses to come forward in Morris case
by Stanley Nelson - posted Thursday, February 7th, 2008 @ 8:24 am
The federal government's effort to capture the murderers of Frank Morris 43 years ago was intensive and that effort has intensified again.
That's one reason U.S. Attorney Donald Washington of Lafayette is urging anyone with information on Morris' murder to come forward. Washington said this week that all information will be handled confidentially and that individuals will be treated politely and respectfully by the FBI. Agents can be reached at 318-443-5097.
Morris, the 51-year-old grandfather and owner of a shoe shop on Hwy. 84 in Ferriday, died on Dec. 14, 1964, four days after his business was set on fire by two white men. Forced at gun point to remain in the flaming building, which was also his home, Morris suffered severe burns and never recovered.
Despite a three-year investigation which drew the interest of then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, no one was ever arrested for the murder of Morris. A year ago, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would take one more look at Morris' case and dozens of other Civil Rights-era murders.
The first step, initiated early last summer, was an FBI assessment of the 800-page file on the four-decade old Morris' investigation. The assessment of that probe was completed by the FBI in December. A few days later, the U.S. Attorney announced that a full review of the murder would be conducted.
While cold cases such as Morris' may be closed after the assessment for a variety of reasons, Morris' case file remains open and Washington has assembled several members of his staff and along with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington is continuing the search for Morris' killers.
Washington came to Ferriday on Thursday and brought along four members of his staff, two FBI agents and a prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. He and the others pledged a concerted effort to follow all available courses to resolve the murder of the man remembered by many as a patriotic American who kept local residents dressed in shoes.
Visiting Ferriday last week along with Washington were four members of his staff -- William J. Flanagan, First Asst. U.S. Atty., based in Shreveport; Katherine W. Vincent, Asst. U.S. Atty., Civil Chief, based in Lafayette; and Mike Campbell and David Hudson, both of Shreveport.
Also visiting Ferriday were Todd B. Cox, FBI Supervisory Special Agent based in New Orleans; Baron H. Lambert, FBI Special Agent based in Alexandria; and Paige M. Fitzgerald, Special Litigation Counsel, Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. Fitzgerald prosecuted James Ford Seale last summer for the May 1964 murder of Charles Moore and Henry Dee.
Professor Janis McDonald, who teaches at Syracuse University College of Law, was invited by Washington to join the meeting in Ferriday. She has traveled to Ferriday four times during the past year investigating the Morris murder. She and a colleague at Syracuse, Professor Paula Johnson, have spearheaded a volunteer student effort to research the Morris case, as well as other cases in this area.
That effort has grown into a course at the university and the establishment by the law school of the Cold Case Justice Initiative in which 50 law students are volunteering to research the Morris case and other unsolved Civil Rights-era murders.
The new three-credit university course, "Investigating Civil Rights Murders," according to Professor McDonald, was initiated last fall and was so successful that it is being offered again this semester.
"The students," she told The Sentinel, "learn to be passionate lawyers who advocate for full investigations and prosecutions of the perpetrators of these long ignored murders. They research thousands of pages of documents, develop detailed chronologies of related events, assess evidence, and draft working memos of law on issues related to bringing (Civil Rights-era cold cases) to prosecution."
Equally important, she added, is that students learn to be respectful of the families and communities that have suffered these losses.