Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Cover-Up by Police Argued in Appeal; Case Involves 1964 Racial Slaying

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Cover-Up by Police Argued in Appeal; Case Involves 1964 Racial Slaying

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Pinkham, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- Lawyers for the children of a Jacksonville woman slain in 1964 because she was black told a federal appeals court yesterday a 32-year conspiracy of secrecy by Jacksonville police denied them justice.

But a lawyer for Jacksonville argued that, despite a racist police cover-up in 1964, there is no evidence it blocked the family of Johnnie Mae Chappell from the courts.

"Where was the barrier that was imposed to prevent . . . a suit?" city attorney Scott Makar asked a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Chappell, 35, was fatally shot from a passing car as she searched for her purse along New Kings Road the same day race riots gripped Jacksonville.

Four white men were arrested five months later by two police detectives who learned their boss had hidden the initial police report in his office, destroyed evidence and never assigned the case for investigation. When they confronted him, the two detectives were removed from the case and later fired.

One of the defendants, J.W. Rich, told police he and his buddies were driving around and decided to shoot a black person, though he denies that today. Rich served three years in prison after a jury convicted him of manslaughter; state prosecutors dropped charges against the other three men, citing insufficient evidence. Chappell's children learned the details in 1996 when one of the detectives approached her youngest son, Shelton, at a memorial service. Shelton Chappell, just 4 months old when his mother died, sued the four men and Jacksonville police, but a judge dismissed the case in 2001, prompting an appeal to the 11th Circuit.

The appellate judges questioned lawyers for about 30 minutes yesterday as both detectives and four of Johnnie Mae Chappell's sons looked on. No decision is expected for months.

Willie Chappell said he is hopeful the judges will send the case back for trial and happy that a court outside Jacksonville heard the facts. He described the case as a "dirty secret" that was kept hidden for decades.

"By coming outside of Jacksonville, I feel that it will go back," he said. …

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