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Supreme Court declines to hear civil-rights era KKK case

The Supreme Court refuses to hear a case on whether the federal statute of limitations applies to a 1964 Ku Klux Klan (KKK) kidnap-murder. That leaves the issue unresolved for future civil-rights era cases.

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The US Supreme Court has declined to decide whether the federal statute of limitations bars the prosecution of a former Ku Klux Klan (KKK) member accused of kidnapping and murdering two black teens in 1964.

James Ford Seale was tried, convicted, and sentenced to three life prison terms in 2007. His lawyers challenged the prosecution on grounds that a five-year statute of limitations for kidnapping had long since passed.

By declining to take up the case, the high court's action leaves in place a decision by Mr. Seale's trial judge allowing his prosecution to go forward and upholding his conviction and life sentences. But the issue remains unresolved in future cases.

The statute of limitations issue is significant because it could undermine efforts by the Justice Department to prosecute suspects in as many as 22 other alleged racially-motivated killings and civil rights crimes dating to the 1950s and 1960s.

Justices John Paul Stevens and Antonin Scalia issued a statement saying the high court should have agreed to resolve the issue now. "The question is narrow, debatable, and important," Justice Stevens wrote. "I see no benefit and significant cost to postponing the question's resolution. A prompt answer from this court will expedite the termination of this litigation and determine whether other similar cases may be prosecuted," he wrote.

A 40-year-old case

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