On This Day, Feb. 5, 1994: Justice for Medgar Evers

de laByron de la Beckwith is convicted of the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers 31 years earlier, ending the lengthiest murder case in American history. Evers was gunned down in the driveway of his Jackson, Mississippi, home while his wife, Myrlie, and the couple’s small children were inside waiting for their father.

20437_1026685948Beckwith, widely recognized as the killer, was prosecuted for murder in 1964. However, two all-white (and all-male) juries deadlocked and refused to convict Beckwith. A second trial held in the same year resulted in a hung jury. The matter was dropped when it appeared that a conviction would be impossible. Myrlie Evers, who later became the national chairwoman of the NAACP, refused to give up, however, pressing authorities to re-open the case. In 1989, documents came to light showing that jurors had been illegally screened.

Prosecutor Bobby DeLaughter worked with Myrlie Evers to force another prosecution of Beckwith. After four years of legal maneuvering, they were finally successful and justice was achieved when Beckwith was convicted and given a life sentence by a racially diverse jury in 1994. The story was dramatized in Rob Reiner’s movie, Ghosts of Mississippi.

medgar evers

  The Medgar Evers Murder Crime Scene

Beckwith appealed the conviction, claiming that he had not been granted a speedy trial as required by the Constitution. However, the appeals courts rejected his argument. Beckwith died in 2001.


Also on this day:

United Artists created, 1919 

Hank Aaron is born, 1934

Roosevelt announces “court-packing” plan, 1937

The American Invasion begins, as Bill Haley and the Comets storm Britain, 1957 

North Vietnamese begin preparations for offensive, 1975