In Mississippi, Verdict Helps To Erase Racist, Violent Past

BYRON DE LA BECKWITH'S third trial in the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers gave the world a glimpse of a changed Mississippi, a state coming to terms with its racist past.

Contrasts were everywhere: The verdict, the jury, the police and the crowd in the courtroom. In the same courtroom in 1964, two all-white juries deadlocked.

This was ``the first fair trial in the case,'' said John Marszalik, author of ``An Encyclopedia of Civil Rights.''

David Sansing, a historian retired from the University of Mississippi, marveled at the changes in the courthouse.

``Did you see the number of black deputies? The black bailiffs in that court? And the people in the gallery?'' he asked. Evers' widow, Myrlie Evers, recalled that she hadn't even been allowed in the courtroom during the first two trials.

A racially mixed jury on Saturday convicted Mr. Beckwith of killing Evers in 1963. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In an appeal, Beckwith's lawyers are expected to argue that the 30-year gap stripped him of his right to a speedy trial and a combination of dead witnesses and missing evidence denied him a fair trial.

Beckwith had bragged about killing Evers in later years, leading prosecutors to reopen the case.

``Those jurors rewrote a major chapter in Mississippi's history - and it was a bleak chapter, filled with violence, lynchings, and injustice,'' said Charles Lowery, history professor at Mississippi State University.

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