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Beckwith, Accused Killer of Medgar Evers, Testifies in Mississippi

Feb. 5, 1964 - Byron De La Beckwith (pictured after his arrest last June) took the witness in his defense today in Jackson, Miss., and said he did not kill Medgar Evers, Negro civil rights leader, last June 12. However, the fertilizer salesman admitted having written a letter to the National Rifle Association on Jan. 26, 1963, in which he said: “For the next 15 years, we here in Mississippi are going to have to do a lot of shooting to protect our wives and children from bad n*****s.” The letter inquired about setting up ranges for white people to practice shooting.

The defense rested its case in the murder trial after Beckwith had testified for 2½ hours. Closing summations will begin tomorrow, the 10th day of the trial. District Attorney William Waller introduced a letter Beckwith sent to a newspaper in 1957. In it, the defendant said he believed in segregation as he believed in God. When he gets to Heaven, he wrote, he expects to be separated from Negroes.

Sitting in front of a Mississippi flag on the witness stand, Beckwith smiled and gesticulated at the jurors, all of them white, and referred to them as gentlemen. Beckwith denied that he had hidden outside the Evers home and shot the Negro leader in the back on his return from a civil rights rally late at night. A gun collector, the 43-year-old defendant said the Enfield rifle and telescopic sight found at the murder scene could have been his, but he was not sure. He said a similar rifle was stolen from him about two days before the shooting. Beckwith denied having been in Jackson the night of the crime, but he did not say where he had been. He lived in Greenwood, about 95 miles north of Jackson.

Before he took the stand, defense attorneys put on two Greenwood policemen and a businessman who testified to having seen Beckwith in Greenwood that night. Under cross-examination, Mr. Waller brought out that none of the three witnesses had reported seeing the defendant to the Jackson Police Department or the FBI and that their testimony had not been used in previous hearings.


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