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Miss. To Try a Murder From Its Past

November 11, 1999

BELZONI, Miss. (AP) _ Three decades have not erased the stain of injustice done to a black sharecropper who was beaten to death by a white mob outside a Mississippi Delta nightclub, a biracial jury was told today.

``The facts have not changed since that period of time,″ District James Powell told the nine blacks and three whites selected to decide the fate of three white men accused of murdering Rainey Pool on the night of April 12, 1970.

The defendants ``all played integral parts and important parts and we believe it is time to bring justice for the victim after 30 years,″ Powell said in his brief opening statement.

Attorneys for James Caston, 66, his brother, Charles E. Caston, 64, and their half brother, Hal Crimm, 50, opted not to address the jury prior to the opening of testimony.

The third-floor courtroom at the old sandy-brick Humphreys County courthouse was only half full, with Pool’s family and friends among about 30 spectators.

The Caston brothers and Crimm insist they had nothing to do with the murder.

Pool, 54, had stopped his station wagon near a nightclub in Louise, a tiny Delta community, that catered to whites. He was beaten to death and his body dumped in a river after he was accused of taking something from a vehicle in the club’s parking lot. It was never established why Pool had stopped there.

The Pool case was reopened after Powell received a call from a New Orleans man who said he was a member of Pool’s family. After looking over the original investigation, Powell said he found several inconsistencies.

In all, seven white men were accused in the killing. Two of them have died, and another, Joe Oliver Watson, 57, entered a guilty plea this year to a reduced charge of manslaughter after agreeing to cooperate with investigators. The seventh was acquitted in June.

In a statement to police following the killing, Watson said several people had kicked Pool until he lay lifeless. Later, Watson said, he and Crimm loaded Pool’s body into a pickup and dumped the body into a river.

Watson’s written statement was thrown out after he said he was not read his rights. The highway patrolman who took his confession was never called to testify, according to court records. Three months after Pool’s death, the district attorney’s office asked that the case be dropped.

The reopening of the Pool case is the latest attempt by Mississippi prosecutors to revisit old, unsolved and possibly racist crimes that occurred during the state’s turbulent civil rights period of the 1960s and early 1970s.

In 1994, a jury in Jackson, Miss., convicted white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith of the 1963 ambush killing of NAACP leader Medgar Evers. A jury in Hattiesburg last year convicted onetime Ku Klux Klan chief Sam Bowers in the 1966 firebombing death of voting rights advocate Vernon Dahmer in Hattiesburg.

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