Verdict reheats KKK emotions

"Not a stone went unturned in the preparation of this case." says district attorney Michael Schlosser. He was talking about one of most controversial and well-publicized murder trials involving the Ku Klux Klan -- one which resulted in the acquittal of six KKK or Nazi Party members here.

Troubling blacks and others who advocated convictions was the fact that seemingly hard evidence (namely footgate recorded by TV news cameras) was successfully refuted by claims of "self-defense."

The fatal encounter that led to the killings had several origins. On one side there was a handful of Communists who tried to organize blue-collar workers in this textile-producing area. Their eventual aim was, one of their leaders here says proudly, the overthrow of the US government. Theirs was a mostly white group that tried recruiting poor blacks, among others.

On the other side: a small group of whites who profess to hate not only international communism, but also blacks and Jews. Their joining of the Ku Klux Klan was perhaps a social activity as much as anything else.

The two sides taunted each other, then met Nov. 3, 1979, in one brief encounter in a black neighborhood here that left five Communists dead -- all but one of them white.

The murders were recorded by TV news crews who were on hand to watch the Communists' anti-Klan march. The resulting film was used as evidence in the trial.

But during the five-month trial, the defense attorneys apparantly convined the all- white jury that the klansmen were firing in self-defense.

"We accused them of wrapping themselves in the flag of patriotism," says James Coman, of the prosecuting attorneys for the state.

A key to the defense, said a defense attorney, was portraying the dependants "as patriotic American citizens."

Basically, he said, the defense was able to convince the jury that the defendants were firing at people who were firing -- or at least aiming -- guns at them.

But after charging that the Communists had fired the first shot, the defense backed off to a "not sure" point as prosecutors pointed to a Klan vehicle as the likely origin of that shot.

Further shots followed -- the second (in the air) by a Klansmmen and the third, fourth, and fifth in doubts as to their origins.

Much of the black reaction is stunned surprise and bitterness. The NAACP local chapter's president. George Simkins Jr., called the jury's verdict "tantamount to a license to kill."

The US Justice Department is examining the case. It could decide to bring civil rights charges againts the defendants.

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