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URGENT White Supremacist Byron De La Beckwith Convicted Of Medgar Evers’ Murder

February 5, 1994 GMT

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ After 30 years and three trials, white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith was convicted today and sentenced to life in prison for murdering civil rights leader Medgar Evers in 1963.

Beckwith was tried twice before all-white juries in 1964. Both times, the juries deadlocked and mistrials were declared. The jury that convicted him was comprised of eight blacks and four whites.

Beckwith was indicted a third time in 1991 after new witnesses came forward to say they had heard him claim responsibility for Evers’ death. Those witnesses, along with circumstantial evidence from 1963, formed the core of the prosecution’s case.

During the weeklong trial, prosecutors argued that Beckwith, a former fertilizer salesman, had staked out Evers’ home and fired a single shot through his back as the NAACP leader got out of his car shortly after midnight on June 12, 1963.

Beckwith, 73, who did not testify, has steadfastly maintained that he didn’t kill Evers, but has never hidden his satisfaction that Evers died. His court-appointed lawyers argued that he was in his hometown of Greenwood, 90 miles from Jackson, when Evers was killed.

The trial was held in the same courtroom as Beckwith’s first two trials, and provided daily reminders of how much has changed in Mississippi in the intervening years.

Beckwith was considered something of a folk hero in Mississippi when he was first tried. Gov. Ross Barnett was among the well-wishers who came to the trial to support him.

This time, Beckwith drew support from his family and a few friends from the white supremacist movement, but the overwhelming majority of those at the trial were sympathizers of Evers and his widow, Myrlie, who hugged her son and daughter as Circuit Judge L. Breland Hilburn imposed the sentence. Then she cried.

As Beckwith was led away, his wife, Thelma, began sobbing and said: ″He’s not guilty. He’s never been guilty and they know. They know it.″

While Beckwith’s segregationist views were embraced by both the prosecution and defense in the first trials, both sides paid tribute to Evers at the third trial.

In his closing argument, Assistant District Attorney Bobby DeLaughter asked jurors what Evers had done to deserve assassination.

″What he did was have the gall, the uppityness, to want for his people - what? To be called by a name instead of ‘Boy?’ ... To go into a restaurant? To go into a department store, to vote, and for your children to get a decent education in a decent school?″

District Attorney Ed Peters took up the same litany in a later closing argument. ″That’s all he wanted,″ he said of Evers. ″And that so offended this defendant that he couldn’t take it.″ The defense relied primarily on three alibi witnesses, police officers who said they had seen Beckwith in Greenwood between 11:45 p.m. and 1:05 a.m. the night of the slaying. Evers was killed at about 12:30 a.m.

″Forget that he’s Byron De La Beckwith,″ defense attorney Jim Kitchens had said. ″Forget that you don’t like him. Forget that you don’t agree with him. Judge the case on the evidence.″