February 5

This Day in History

Crime

Feb 5, 1994:

Medger Evers' killer is convicted

Byron de la Beckwith is convicted of the assassination of civil rights leader Medger Evers 31 years earlier, ending the lengthiest murder case in American history. Evers was gunned down in the driveway of his Jackson, Mississippi, home while his wife, Myrlie, and the couple's small children were inside waiting for their father.

Beckwith, widely recognized as the killer, was prosecuted for murder in 1964. However, two all-white (and all-male) juries deadlocked and refused to convict Beckwith. A second trial held in the same year resulted in a hung jury. The matter was dropped when it appeared that a conviction would be impossible. Myrlie Evers, who later became the national chairwoman of the NAACP, refused to give up, however, pressing authorities to re-open the case. In 1989, documents came to light showing that jurors had been illegally screened.

Prosecutor Bobby DeLaughter worked with Myrlie Evers to force another prosecution of Beckwith. After four years of legal maneuvering, they were finally successful and justice was achieved when Beckwith was convicted and given a life sentence by a racially diverse jury in 1994. The story was dramatized in Rob Reiner's movie, Ghosts of Mississippi.

Beckwith appealed the conviction, claiming that he had not been granted a speedy trial as required by the Constitution. However, the appeals courts rejected his argument. Beckwith died in 2001.

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