72-year-old gets life for hate slaying

Reputed Klansman killed black man to lure King Jr. to Miss.

Associated Press/June 17, 2003
By Angela K. Brown

Fort Worth, Texas -- A reputed Klansman was sentenced to life without parole Tuesday in the 1966 slaying of a black sharecropper who was shot in what prosecutors say was a plot to lure the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to Mississippi to be assassinated.

Ernest Avants, a 72-year-old stroke victim who suffers from congestive heart failure, was convicted in Mississippi in January. But because of his failing health, he was sentenced at the Fort Worth Medical Center.

U.S. District Judge William Barbour said he imposed the maximum because Avants showed no remorse.

"Times have changed since 1966," Barbour said. "I hope that when Mr. Avants' generation has finally died, I hope the feeling of hatred against black people will have died with them."

Prosecutors said Avants and two white companions offered 67-year-old Chester White $2 and a soda to help them with a chore. White, who had no connection to the civil rights movement, was driven to a national forest, shot to death and dumped in a creek bed.

The case was the latest in a string of civil rights era cases that have been reopened in recent years and prosecuted.

Last year, an Alabama jury convicted an aging former Klansman of murder for the 1963 church bombing that killed four black girls in Birmingham. And in 1994, Byron De La Beckwith was convicted in the 1963 death of civil rights activist Medgar Evars in Mississippi.

At his sentencing, Avants had tubes in his nose and a portable oxygen tank beside him. He sat in a reclining, padded chair with rolling wheels; a nurse was by his side. He answered "yes" when the judge asked if he had read the pre-sentencing report, but did not speak during the rest of the hearing.

The defense had asked for the possibility of parole in less than 15 years, saying Avants was in poor health and has a wife and young child.

Avants was acquitted of murder in a 1967 state trial, but federal authorities brought a charge of aiding and abetting murder years later because White was killed on federal property.

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