National News

3 Cold Cases in N.C. Could Be Reinvestigated

Posted February 27, 2007 3:15 a.m. EST
Updated February 27, 2007 12:12 p.m. EST

— Three murders in North Carolina dating back to the 1950s and 1960s are among scores of civil rights era cases that may be re-opened.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which reports on hate crimes, has forwarded a list of 74 cold cases in 11 states to the FBI in the hopes that it may be helpful in future investigations. The Justice Department is holding a news conference Tuesday to talk about a new database of old civil rights era cases that now could be investigated.

Those killed in North Carolina on the list are Clarence Cloninger of Gaston, William Owens of New Bern, and W.G. Singleton of Shelby.

The Montgomery, Alabama-based center's researchers say many of the people on its list died at the hands of law enforcement officers. If whites were charged, they were often exonerated by sympathetic juries, researchers said.

"In each case there was significant evidence that the death may have been a racial murder," said Mark Potok, director of the center's Intelligence Project.

Researchers started the list in the late 1980s when the group was putting together a civil rights memorial.

"We did a lot of research on these names and we're very hopeful that this information will be helpful to the FBI and particularly that it will be helpful to the families of those who were murdered," Potok said.

Thirty-two of the deaths happened in Mississippi. The others were in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky and New York.

Last month, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the bureau was aggressively seeking to solve cold civil rights cases, vowing to "pursue justice to the end, and we will, no matter how long it takes, until every living suspect is called to answer for their crimes."

For most cases on the center's list, the statute of limitations under federal civil rights laws will have run out, U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton has said. In others, charges could not be brought because the accused already have faced charges and been cleared by a jury.

Still, researchers at the law center believe each is worth investigation.