The Six New Witnesses

The Six New Witnesses

By Elaine Davenport

Vol. 16, No. 1, 1994, pp. 10-11

Highlights from the testimony of the six new witnesses in the Byron de la Beckwith trial, in the order in which they appeared before the court:

In September 1966, Mary Ann Adams, 51, of Mississippi, went with a co-worker to a restaurant between Tchula and Greenwood in the Delta, where she met Beckwith: “He came to our table and was introduced as Byron de la Beckwith, the man who killed Medgar Evers. I refused to shake his hand and he got angry. He said he had not killed a man, but a ‘damn chicken-stealing dog and you know what you have to do once they’ve tasted blood.’ She told her mother, but not “the law” because she thought Beckwith couldn’t be tried again. When she saw publicity about the case being reopened, she got in touch with Deputy District Attorney DeLaughter.

Dan Prince, 49, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, rented an apartment in Beckwith’s home from November 1986 until he was evicted in August 1987. On one occasion when they were both standing in Beckwith’s front yard, Beckwith told Prince that Beckwith had been tried twice in Mississippi “for killing that nigger. I had a job to do and I did it and I didn’t suffer any more for it than my wife would when she was going to have a baby.” The defense portrayed Prince as a drunk, and as someone who was trying to get back at Beckwith for evicting him.

Elluard Jenoal ‘Dick’ Davis, 60, of Orlando, Florida, a Klan member turned FBI informant. Davis met Beckwith October 21, 1969, in a restaurant in Winterhaven, Florida. Beckwith was selling boats. Beckwith discussed his arrest and trials and “‘selective killings’ and said he would never ask anyone to do anything he hadn’t already done himself.” Immediately, Davis typed up notes for an FBI report.

Peggy Morgan, 46, of Mobile, Alabama and her husband lived in Greenwood, Mississippi, and one Sunday, sometime between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s (she was unable to be more precise), the couple gave Beckwith a ride to the state penitentiary, some eighty miles from Greenwood. The Morgans visited her husband’s brother and Beckwith visited Cecil Sessums, one of four KKK members convicted of murder in the January 1966 firebombing death of Vernon Dahmer, former president of the Forrest County NAACP. All three rode in the front seat, with Peggy sitting between her husband and Beckwith, who was in the passenger seat. Beckwith was concerned that no one know of his visit. “He said he had killed Medgar

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Evers, a nigger, and if this ever got out [about the trip to the penitentiary], he wasn’t scared to kill again,” she testified. Morgan said Beckwith later told her again the trip “better not get out” which “put a fear in me.” The defense tried to discredit her by suggesting she had psychiatric problems and was on medication, that she had been subjected to abuse, and that her mother’s death from freezing had traumatized her.

Delmar Dennis, 53, of Sevierville, Tennessee, a Klansman turned FBI informant, recounted the Aug. 8, 1965, meeting of Klan leaders in Byram, Mississippi, at which Beckwith said “killing that nigger didn’t cause me any more physical harm than your wives did to have a baby for you.”

In late 1979 Mark Reiley, 36, of Chicago, Illnois, had been a guard at the Earl K. Long Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where Angola inmate Beckwith was staying. Beckwith called him “Young Blood” because of Reiley’s Scots-Irish coloring: “Beckwith knew I was lacking a father-type figure and he was willing to fill that role.” Reiley spent eight to ten hours a day over a period of weeks with Beckwith and they studied the Bible: “He explained to me from the Bible that black people were ‘beasts of the field’ and if they got out of line you should kill them and not feel guilty about it.”

At one point, Reiley said, Beckwith rang for a nurse and a black woman appeared. Beckwith asked for a white person, and the nurse and Beckwith began a screaming match. Reiley remembers Beckwith saying “If I could get rid of an uppity nigger like Medgar Evers, I would have no problem with a no-count nigger like you.” Reiley also said Beckwith tried to impress him with having run for Lt. Governor of Mississippi, saying if Beckwith didn’t have power and connections, “he’d be serving time in jail in Mississippi for getting rid of that nigger Medgar Evers.”

Reiley did not know who Medgar Evers was until the Friday of the trial when the weather in Chicago was so cold he did not have to go to work and he sat at home watching CNN on television. He saw a story about the Evers case and finally realized who Beckwith had been talking about. Over the years Reiley had told his wife and friends of his conversations with Beckwith. When he realized it was important, he called the prosecutor in Jackson. At the end of the trial, District Attorney Ed Peters called Reiley—a surprise witness with a detailed, coherent story—his “cleanup hitter.”