- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

JACKSON, Miss., Feb. 27 (UPI) — Closing arguments will begin Friday in Jackson, Miss., in the second trial of Ernest Avants in the slaying of a black man in a scheme to kill civil rights leader Martin Luther King 27 years ago.

The prosecution rested its case Thursday afternoon after two days of testimony, and then the defense presented only a brief case.

The most damaging testimony was given Thursday when former FBI agent Allen Kornblum testified that Avants had admitted shooting the victim, Ben Chester White.

"He said his lawyer told him he could not be convicted because he had a valid defense," Kornblum said.

He said another man had already killed the victim.

Avants, 72, was acquitted in state court in 1967 but is now being tried in federal court on charges of aiding and abetting a murder. James Lloyd Jones and Claude Fuller were involved in the crime, but both have since died.

Prosecutor Paige Fitzgerald said Klansmen killed White, 67, because that would lure the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to the area near Natchez, Miss., where the Ku Klux Klan could kill him.

A statement by Jones, who said he drove the car for the other two, has been read into the record. It said orders to kill White came from the Ku Klux Klan. Jones said Fuller shot White several times before Avants shot him with a shotgun.

"I shot that ……. I shot him. I blew his head off with a shotgun," Kornblum quoted Avants as saying.

Court-appointed defense attorney Tom Royals agreed that medical reports show White was killed by a rifle rather than by a shotgun. He described Jones as a storyteller who made up the tale.

The Justice Department revived the case in 1999 when lawyers discovered the slaying took place on federal land, enabling federal murder charges.

The first witness at the trial, Eddie Walters, now 48, described how he found the body when he was 11 years old. He said he was on his way to a swim at Pretty Creek when he spotted the body of White.

"We seen a dead man there, flies blowing everywhere — the ungodly smell," he said.

He confirmed the body was on federal land. It was known to him as Sandy Creek Refuge or "gummint land," he said.

An alleged Klan member has said Avants was a fellow member, but the jury of two black women, one black man, one white man and eight white women won't hear about it.

U.S. District Judge William H. Barbour disallowed the testimony on grounds it was irrelevant.

Avants is attending the trial in a wheelchair, the result of a stroke.

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