Crist's inquiry was for political gain, critics say

Two black lawmakers backing Davis chide Crist, saying he oversold a fruitless probe of the 1951 murders of a black couple.

Published October 12, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Two black lawmakers on Wednesday joined the criticism of Attorney General Charlie Crist's attempt to solve the 1951 murders of a civil rights leader and his wife.

"Crist's investigation brought no new facts and now he wants to come forth and say all the things he'd done in this case to try to make headway in the black community, which I think is playing politics," state Sen. Les Miller, D-Tampa, said during a conference call arranged by the campaign of Jim Davis, the Democratic opponent of Crist's, a Republican, in the governor's race.

The Attorney General's Office spent nearly two years looking into the murders of Harry T. Moore and his wife, who were killed when a bomb went off under their house in Mims on Christmas night 1951. Crist stopped short of declaring the case solved, saying in August that "extensive circumstantial evidence" points to a conspiracy by four members of the Ku Klux Klan, all of whom are long dead.

Moore's daughter, Evangeline Moore, 76, offered praise for Crist and agreed to be filmed for a TV commercial reading a letter of thanks. Crist said Tuesday he no longer intends to use the footage in an ad.

But that did not quell criticism from Miller and state Rep. Curtis Richardson, D-Tallahassee, who said Crist should have been looking at contemporary issues facing the black community and that the decision to reopen the old case was a political calculation.

"To have used that interview for political gain when (the investigation) was paid for by the taxpayers of the state of Florida would have been absolutely wrong," Richardson said.

The lawmakers' comments follow those of Moore's biographer, Ben Green, who called Crist's findings deeply flawed for relying on mistakes and misinterpretations of old FBI cases.

The reaction from Davis could be a sign the campaign is worried about Crist's appeal in the black community. A Quinnipiac University poll released this week showed Crist taking 20 percent of the African-American vote, which has historically been reliably Democratic.

Crist's campaign defended the Moore investigation Wednesday.

"The Davis campaign is simply trying to distract Floridians from Jim Davis' poor record on civil rights, especially voting against compensation for (wrongfully convicted black men Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee)," Crist spokeswoman Erin Isaac wrote in a statement.

Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.