Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Reparations, New Probe Sought in 1964 Killing; State Senator Wants Roadway Memorial for Johnnie Mae Chappell

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Reparations, New Probe Sought in 1964 Killing; State Senator Wants Roadway Memorial for Johnnie Mae Chappell

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL PINKHAM, The Times-Union

A Florida senator, citing recent prosecutions across the South for crimes committed during the civil rights era, has asked Gov. Jeb Bush to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate a 1964 Jacksonville murder case and three accused conspirators who were never tried.

Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, said he also has contacted the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and the Holland & Knight law firm to determine if the surviving children of Johnnie Mae Chappell are entitled to reparations. And he said he has introduced legislation that would memorialize her along the portion of New Kings Road where she was killed, similar to how lawmakers honored Jacksonville football and track star Bob Hayes.

Chappell, who was black, was gunned down by a carload of white men intent on shooting an African-American. All four men were indicted, but only one was tried. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists Chappell as Florida's only civil rights-era martyr.

Hill said he wrote to Bush after State Attorney Harry Shorstein denied a request by Chappell's children to reopen her case.

"The excuses given about the time frame that has lapsed and the rights of those accused of murdering Mrs. Chappell should not outweigh justice being rendered to Mrs. Chappell and her family," Hill wrote to the governor Nov. 24. "If time frames or the rights of those accused of such a heinous crime were legitimate excuses, cases like the 1963 Birmingham, Ala., church bombing would not have been reopened."

A copy of Hill's letter was obtained Tuesday by the Times-Union.

"The Chappell family should have the right to see to it that the three additional men indicted in the murder of their mother . . . are prosecuted to the full extent of the law to determine their guilt or innocence," Hill wrote.

Bush spokesman Jacob DiPietre wouldn't confirm receipt of Hill's letter, even after a copy was faxed by the Times-Union.

The governor was contacted about the Chappell case in 2003 by former Jacksonville police detective Lee Cody and asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate. FDLE concluded then that further investigation wasn't warranted and no state prosecution would be viable because of the time that had elapsed and the scarcity of physical evidence still available. Shorstein concurred in that opinion.

Shorstein was out of town and unavailable for comment Tuesday but said in July he couldn't reopen the case because there was little likelihood of successful prosecution more than 40 years after the slaying.

Chappell's youngest son said he hopes something comes of Hill's requests after a legal odyssey that has taken him and his siblings to the U.S. Supreme Court in search of justice for their mother.

"This is something we've been asking for all along," said Shelton Chappell. …

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