Justice to Review Civil Rights Figure's '64 Killing; Woman Slain as Race Riots Swept City

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Pinkham, Times-Union staff writer

President Bush has asked the Justice Department to review the 1964 Jacksonville slaying of an African-American woman considered a martyr of the civil rights movement.

The White House wrote last week to inform a former Jacksonville police detective, who had written the president several months ago, about Bush's decision.

Johnnie Mae Chappell was fatally shot while walking along New Kings Road as race riots swept through the city in March 1964. She was searching for a wallet lost when she ventured out to get ice cream for her family.

Four white men were charged with murder but only one was convicted -- of a lesser charge of manslaughter.

No one disputes the killing was racially motivated, but Chappell's son Shelton and former detective Lee Cody have long insisted that Jacksonville police covered up evidence in the case. For instance, the gun that fired the fatal bullet disappeared from the police property room, and Cody and a partner found case evidence hidden in a supervisor's office. Cody and his partner, Donald Coleman, were fired after investigating the slaying.

In his letter to Bush, Cody said Jacksonville police obstructed justice in the case and even convinced the local FBI office to "back off." He urged the president to reopen the investigation and to convince his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, to empanel a grand jury outside Duval County to look into the matter.

"The White House is sending your inquiry to the Department of Justice, which will review your correspondence," a presidential staffer wrote. She promised a prompt response.

Chief Assistant U. …

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