Good afternoon, I am Andy Sheldon.
We are here to honor the dead. We have come together to celebrate the lives of James, Andrew and Michael and to express our sorrow at the loss of those lives. We have come together also to renew our commitment to find justice for them.
Historians of truth will tell you that there is a problem in the American legal system that has allowed Justice to miscarry. It is that miscarriage that allowed men like Byron de la Beckwith, Sam Bowers, Thomas Blanton, Bobby Cherry and Ernest Avants and many others to escape prosecution for 30 and 40 years. The men who killed James, Andrew and Michael have escaped prosecution for 40 years because of that problem.
I was invited here because, as a jury consultant, I helped choose the jury that convicted Byron de la Beckwith in 1994 for the murder of Medgar Evers. It was the first conviction since 1977 of a Klansman for murder.
In 1994, it was because of the courage of Myrlie Evers-Williams, journalist Jerry Mitchell. Judge Bobby Delaughter, and District Attorney Ed Peters that Byron de la Beckwith was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
I am here to honor the courage of Medgar and Myrlie Evers.
And in 1998, I helped choose the jury in Hattiesburg that convicted Sam Bowers, a man who liked to call himself "The Imperial Wizard." He was convicted for the murder of Vernon Dahmer who wanted democracy to work for everyone. Mrs. Ellie Dahmer, his widow, is here today, sitting in the other room. If you have never met Mrs. Dahmer, you should do so before you leave today. She is the embodiment of courage and you will know that when you meet her.
I am here to honor the courage of Vernon and Ellie Dahmer.
And in 2000 and again in 2002, I was part of a team that picked the juries that convicted the last 2 living bombers of the Birmingham 16th Street Baptist Church and sentenced them to life in prison.
I am here to honor the courage of the four girls who were preparing to lead the childrens service in church that morning and whose lives ended on that September Sunday morning: Cynthia Wesley, Diane Robertson, Denise McNair and Addie Mae Collins.
Finally, last year in Jackson, I helped pick the jury in the case against Ernest Avants, one of 3 Klansmen who murdered Ben Chester White in 1967 in Adams County. Prior to that, Avants had never spent one day in prison since 1967 because of that problem with the American legal system. Ernest Avants died in prison last week.
I am here to honor the courage of Ben Chester White, an innocent sharecropper who, when the car door was thrown open and he was looking down the barrel of a very powerful rifle said, "Oh my God, what have I done to deserve this."
As I speak around the country about these 5 trials, I make 2 points:
The first is that the problem in our legal system needs to be fixed.
The second point is that the problem in our legal system will not be fixed until the Neshoba County case is either indicted or finally closed.
I mention these cases not to focus on me, but to let you know where I have come from and to remind everyone that none of those cases had any hope of succeeding either. But they did.
"You never know until you try," is what my Father, who I honor on this Father's Day, said to me.
And my message, from the vantage point of 1994 through 2004, from the Beckwith case all the way through Avants, is that you will never know until you try.
You need to try.
Because there ought not be a problem this big in a system we like to call fair and just and equal.
I never knew Medgar Evers or Vernon Dahmer or Ben Chester White or the Four Little Girls who died in the church in Birmingham, but I wish I did. I never knew Ben or James or Mickey, but their courage was immense.
I have not known you before today, either, and I am filled with respect for the stories you tell of those days and of the camaraderie you show each other in your reunions.
I honor your courage.
It is about the deaths of these 3 young men that we are here today. Please take a moment with me, in silence, to honor James, Andrew and Michael, their lives and their courage.
Copyright © 2004, Andrew Sheldon