Grand Jury probing Frank Morris murder
The Concordia Parish Grand Jury began hearing testimony Tuesday concerning the 1964 murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris.
Witnesses were seen entering the courthouse to appear before the panel which is looking into the 46-year-old murder.
Neither federal nor local authorities would comment on the Grand Jury.
The U.S. Attorney's office in Louisiana's Western District announced in 2009 that the Concordia Parish District Attorney's Office would become involved in the Morris investigation. At that time, former U.S. Attorney Donald Washington of Lafayette said the probe would eventually include the appointment of a federal attorney as an assistant district attorney in Concordia.
The Sentinel has learned that a DOJ attorney appeared before the Grand Jury on Tuesday.
Morris, 51, an African-American, died Dec. 14, 1964, four days after his shoe shop was torched by at least two men. Before he died, Morris told authorities that he saw two men outside the shop on the night of the arson. He said one had a shotgun, the other a gasoline can. He also said he glimpsed another man and a car in the alley beside his shop.
Morris said the man with the shotgun prevented his exit from the front of the shop while the man with the gasoline can ignited the shoe shop with what appeared to be a match.
The FBI investigated Morris' death in the 1960s and reopened the case in 2007. Authorities viewed the murder as a civil rights case.
The killing is one of more than 100 civil rights era murders the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI have reviewed. About half of these cases have since been closed for various reasons, according to DOJ.
According to investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., 29 arrests involving killings from the civil rights era have been made since 1989. Of that total, he said 24 convictions have been recorded, the most recent being that of James Bonard Fowler for the 1965 killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson in Alabama.
Cynthia Deitle, chief of the FBI's Civil Rights Unit, said in a statement to The Sentinel in January that Morris' murder was "one of the most horrific and troubling of all the FBI's Civil Rights era Cold Cases."
Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, termed the murder "an unspeakable act."
The Sentinel reported last month that a 71-year-old Rayville man was implicated in the arson by the man's son, ex-wife and ex-brother-in-law. The three identified the man as Arthur Leonard Spencer.
The son, William "Boo" Spencer of Rayville, and ex-brother-in-law, Bill Frasier of Minden, said Spencer told them about his involvement, while Spencer's ex-wife, Brenda Rhodes of Minden, said another Klansman implicated Spencer in the arson.
The three said the Klansmen did not expect Morris to be in the shoe shop that night.
Spencer, who told The Sentinel he was a Klan member in Richland Parish in the 1960s, denied any involvement in the Morris arson and denied knowing the other Klansman implicated.
Neither the FBI nor DOJ would comment on Spencer.
According to FBI documents, Morris was targeted for attack by the Ferriday-Clayton Unit of the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan on a number of complaints, most alleging that Morris was flirting or dating white women. Natchez Klan leader E.L. McDaniel, an FBI informant in 1967, told the bureau he was asked by a Ferriday-Clayton Original Knights' leader to authorize a Mississippi hit squad -- known as a wrecking crew -- to whip Morris for allegedly flirting with white women.
But according to Klansman O.C. "Coonie" Poissot, the other Klansman implicated in the Morris arson by Spencer's ex-wife and ex-brother-in-law, the arson was triggered when Concordia Parish sheriff's deputy Frank DeLaughter quarreled with Morris over a pair of cowboy boots. Poissot, an FBI informant who died in the 1990s, and another informant, told the bureau in 1967 that Morris informed DeLaughter he would no longer repair the deputy's cowboy boots for free.
FBI documents provided by the Syracuse College of Law Cold Case Justice Initiative indicate that DeLaughter was furious with Morris over the encounter. The FBI concluded in 1967 that it was likely the arson was triggered by this confrontation.