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Attorneys said Wednesday they are working to free a reputed Ku Klux Klansman after a federal appeals court overturned the three life sentences he was serving for the 1964 abduction of two black teenagers who died after being beaten and thrown in the Mississippi River.

James Ford Seale, 73, had spent just over a year in prison after being convicted in June 2007 on kidnapping and conspiracy charges related to the abductions of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee.

Authorities said the two 19-year-old friends were beaten by Klansmen and thrown, possibly still alive, into a muddy backwater of the Mississippi River amid rumors that black residents were planning an uprising.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found late Tuesday that the statute of limitations for kidnapping had expired in the four decades between Seale's alleged crime and the federal charges.

Seale was charged after Moore's brother, who was working on a film about the killings, found him in south Mississippi in 2005. The case, which took a backseat to the high-profile search for three civil rights workers who also disappeared in Mississippi that summer, had been cold for years. Many thought Seale was dead.

Thomas Moore said Wednesday he believes the conviction was overturned on a technicality.

"He is not innocent. The community knows it. The world knows it," Moore said. "We are just in the third inning of a nine-inning ball game ... It's not over with."

Matt Steffey, a professor at the Mississippi College School of Law, said federal prosecutors could ask the full appeals court to review the ruling, but it's unlikely the unanimous decision would be overturned.


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