Family awaits justice in 1964 shooting©Associated Press
January 3, 2003
JACKSONVILLE -- A photograph of his mother's body in the morgue is a constant reminder for Shelton Chappell of her shooting death in 1964.
The photo, published in Jet magazine, is the only picture Chappell has of Johnnie Mae Chappell, who was gunned down on March 23, 1964, while race riots rocked this Southern city.
A jury found that the killing of the black woman by a carload of white men was accidental. The shooter was convicted on a reduced charge of manslaughter. Three other suspects in the car were never tried.
Until six years ago, when former sheriff's Detective C. Lee Cody showed up at a Chappell family reunion, the family thought justice had been served.
Cody, who had helped crack the case that had gone unsolved for months, told the family a tale of police coverup in Chappell's killing. He alleges that the initial investigation was shoddy and that evidence had disappeared from police custody.
In response to a letter from Cody, President Bush recently asked the Justice Department to review the killing and the police investigation that followed.
The work of Cody and his partner, Donald R. Coleman, resulted in a grand jury indictment on Sept. 25, 1964, charging J.W. Rich, Wayne Chessman, James Alex Davis and Elmer Kato with the killing.
Rich was charged with firing the weapon that killed Mrs. Chappell. The other three were charged with "aiding and abetting."
After a one-day trial on Dec. 2, 1964, an all-white jury found Rich guilty of manslaughter. Neither the gun nor any other evidence was presented to the jury.
Rich was paroled after serving three years of a 10-year sentence.
On Jan. 18, 1965, the state dropped charges against the others, citing insufficient evidence.
Attempts to reach the four were unsuccessful.
Two years ago Chappell's nine surviving children filed a civil rights lawsuit, demanding accountability from the four men and the Sheriff's Office.
None of the four men hired a lawyer to contest the lawsuit, but three filed responses.
"There was not a conspiracy," Rich wrote. Chessman and Kato denied any wrongdoing.
The suit was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Harvey E. Schlesinger, who said the four-year statute of limitations had run out. The appeal is scheduled for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in January.
"We have not gotten justice because of the color of our skin," Cody said.
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