The eyes of the nation turned to Madison County 50 years ago July 11 when a black WWII veteran was murdered in the night by the Ku Klux Klan.

The killing came just nine days after the passage of the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964.

That legislation officially ended the Jim Crow era of “separate but equal” by prohibiting racial discrimination in the workplace or at any accommodations or facilities open to the public.

But ink on a page in a federal building was one thing. Actually implementing such an act was an entirely different matter — not a legislative one, but a battle of the soul in a racially divisive society.

There was resistance. There was violence.

And one of the most notable cases happened right here.

In the early morning hours of July 11, 1964, two shotgun blasts ripped through the rural quiet of Madison County, claiming the life of Penn, a 49-year-old black man, a World War II veteran, a husband and a father of three, who supervised five vocational schools in Washington, D.C., while also being an active church member and Boy Scout leader, who had organized a Scout camp for underprivileged black youth.

The federal government responded in force, sending dozens of investigators to northeast Georgia. The case became a test of the equal rights issue. If there was no justice for a distinguished black educator and war veteran murdered in the night as he drove home from reserve duty to his family, would the Civil Rights Act hold up against the resistance?

The nation watched as the courtroom in Danielsville filled in August. Two men, Cecil Myers and Howard Sims, both known Ku Klux Klan members, would stand trial for killing Penn. They were accused of following him from Athens, then firing at him with double-barreled, sawed-off shotguns as they sped by in a car driven by James Lackey on Hwy. 172 at the Broad River Bridge at the Madison-Elbert County line.

TAKING IT ALL IN

Boyd Jordan was the man assigned to transcribe it all as a court reporter. He entered the Madison County courtroom Aug. 31, 1964, the first day of the trial, carrying a new podium, which stayed in the courtroom “until just a few years ago.” He then took his place at his shorthand machine and watched as a crowd flocked in, many of them, “perhaps 75 to 100,” were reporters from state and national publications.

Jordan, who was interviewed by this newspaper about the Penn case in 2004, had been at the job for less then two years at the time of the Penn case. Despite the national attention, Jordan wasn’t nervous.

“I’d been at it long enough to where it (the attention) didn’t bother me,” said Jordan in the 2004 interview.

The judge for the trial was Carey Skelton, a World War II colonel and former prosecutor, whom Jordan recalled as a “nice, distinguished gentleman.”

“He was the most patriotic man I ever met,” said Jordan, adding that when he first began working for Skelton, the judge sometimes had him call President John F. Kennedy.

Jordan remembered that he would call up the White House, get the president’s secretary, leave a message that Judge Skelton wanted to speak with President Kennedy, then the phone would ring later with the secretary saying that President Kennedy was on the line for Judge Skelton.

A JUDGE’S PERSPECTIVE

The Sunday before the August term of the Madison County Grand Jury, in which Myers and Sims would be indicted for the Penn murder, Skelton called Jordan and asked him to come in to work.

It was one week before the murder trial and Skelton wanted Jordan to type out his charge to the Grand Jury. The court reporter didn’t leave until 3 a.m. Monday morning.

“I typed it at least 10 times,” said Jordan. “He just could never get it to say what he wanted.”

Skelton’s 27-page Grand Jury charge outlined what was required of jurors, including the setting aside of any prejudice.

“The court is a forum wherein all of the rights of all our citizens; whether they be rich or poor, no matter what their station in life is, whether they be white or black, red or yellow, the deliberation of the jury, both traverse and Grand Jury, should be calmly considered and determined, Gentlemen, according to the established rules of law...” said Skelton.

While the judge offered advice to the jury, he seemed to be speaking to a larger audience too, offering views that America “has gone to sleep,” that the country needs to be vigilant in combating the “twin evils” of “Communism and atheism.”

He also spoke against Civil Rights legislation.

“These Northern politicians in the United States Senate, they are just going to cram it down our throats,” he stated.

The judge maintained that the push for Civil Rights legislation pitted property rights against privileges, noting that a man has a right to say who can come into his place of business or who he can hire, but “there is no true right that a man be accepted as a customer, it is, at best, a privilege.”

He maintained that in passing the Civil Rights legislation, the federal government was, in essence, ushering in a police state, by interfering with the rights of business owners to welcome or exclude whomever they chose. He told the Grand Jury that such actions by the federal government would be a step toward Communism and would “be the beginning of the end of freedom in this country.”

WITNESSING THE MURDER

Following jury selection, in which the only two potential black jurors were stricken from consideration by the defense team, the prosecution opened its case by presenting first-hand accounts of a night of terror. They called their first two witnesses, Charles Brown and John Howard, Penn’s fellow reserve officers who were in the car with the victim the night he was killed.

Penn, Brown and Howard had served a two-week stint in Army Reserve training at Ft. Benning, near Columbus. They left immediately after their training officially ended at midnight, July 11, ready to get back to their families and their regular routines in Washington.

The three traveled in Brown’s Chevrolet Sedan, stopping in Atlanta to get gas, then stopping again in Athens when Brown became too sleepy to drive.

Penn took the wheel and Brown fell asleep in the passenger seat. Earlier, the group looked at a map and agreed to take a shortcut through Madison County, taking Hwy. 72 east, then Hwy. 172 north.

Brown testified that he later awoke to two loud blasts, first thinking the car’s tires had blown. The vehicle was out of control and both Brown and Howard, who was in the back seat, lunged for the steering wheel. Brown felt something hot on his left arm, which he later discovered was Penn’s blood. And the car slammed into the side of the Broad River Bridge before they could stop the vehicle.

“As soon as I could get his (Penn’s) foot off the brakes and accelerator, we did stop the car, which was on the other side of the bridge,” Brown said, according to the trial transcript.

Brown had seen two lights disappear into the fog ahead, but Howard had been awake at the time of the shooting and testified that he saw a cream colored ‘61 or ‘62 Chevrolet. He couldn’t tell who was in the vehicle but believed he saw “three or four” silhouettes.

Their friend was dead. And they feared they might soon face the same fate. Howard had “observed light shadows as if they were going in a counterclockwise direction” and believed that the shooters were turning around. Brown moved his friend, vocational school supervisor and bridge partner — now slain — aside so that he could take the wheel. He turned the car around and sped back toward Athens in the fog on an unfamiliar road, with a dead friend of over 20 years next to him, believing they were being chased by his murderers.

“I then kept my eye in the rearview mirror and I could see that the lights were there and that they were actually gaining on us as we proceeded down this highway,” said Brown.

Brown lost control of the car at the intersection of Hwy. 72 and Hwy. 172 and the vehicle came to rest in a ditch by the railroad track.

“We felt helpless, at least I did,” said Brown, who shouted at a passing car, “Help us if you can, someone has been killed.”

The driver of the car summoned Colbert policeman Billy Smith, who then contacted Madison County sheriff Dewey Seagraves.

The news of the murder would quickly reach President Lyndon Johnson.

A KLAN CASE

In his 1981 book “Murder at Broad River Bridge,” well-known Georgia political commentator Bill Shipp detailed the pattern of violence and destruction by the Ku Klux Klan in the Athens area in the early 1960s, such as the burning of a Catholic children’s camp, which welcomed black youth, or the shooting of two black teenagers from cars owned by members of the Klan.

There was also a group of KKK “nightriders” who drove the streets of Athens on “security patrol” with an emphasis on keeping the races apart.

Jim Hudson, who along with John Darsey represented Myers and Sims in the murder trial and who died in 2010, said in a 2004 interview with this newspaper, that there was never any question about the defendants’ membership in the Klan.

“These fellows were members of the Ku Klux,” said Hudson of his clients. “There wasn’t any question about that; they didn’t wear masks or anything. They were bona fide in their belief that the races ought not be integrated, which is wrong, but that’s what they felt at the time. A lot of other people did too. Of course, it was wrong, still is.”

When federal investigators came to Athens to investigate the Penn murder, they focused on the Klan, a group known to resort to violence to maintain segregation.

A CONFESSION

The federal investigators began receiving tips from paid informants in the Klan. And one of the names that they kept hearing was James Lackey. So the agents began questioning Lackey, who first told them that he didn’t know anything about the murder of Lemuel Penn and neither did Howard Sims or Cecil Myers — a denial that was an unintended implication.

The FBI agents continued questioning Lackey, emphasizing that there would be no reward for speaking up except a clean conscience. And on Aug. 6, Lackey confessed that he had driven the car in the shooting and that Sims and Myers were the gunmen.

“I’m going to tell you the truth,” Lackey told the FBI agents. “I drove the car. But I didn’t think those sonofabitches were going to kill him.”

He added: “When I was alongside the Negroes’ car, both Myers and Sims fired shotguns into the Negroes’ car. I drove on by the Negro car and turned around and came back. I didn’t see the car into which the shots were fired as we returned from the area of the bridge to Athens.”

Lackey’s confession statement included a number of details about the night. For instance, he said Sims saw the D.C. tag of the car the victim was driving and commented “that must be some of President Johnson’s boys.”

“The original reason for our following the colored men was because we had heard that Martin Luther King might make Georgia a testing ground with the Civil Rights Bill,” said Lackey. “We thought some out of town n$%^^& might stir up some trouble in Athens.”

Lackey said Sims and Myers insisted that Lackey follow the car driven by the black men out of town.

“They had me go out of town so it would not look like like someone from Athens did the shooting,” said Lackey.

Lackey said the gun used by Myers “was the shotgun that hangs on the wall of Guest’s Garage” and that the gun used by Myers was “his own gun which he placed in the Chevy II earlier in the evening.”

“As soon as we got back to Guest’s Garage both Myers and Sims cleaned the shotguns in the garage,” Lackey said. “They wiped the guns off with a rag. (Herbert) Guest asked what happened and Sims said, ‘We shot one, but we don’t know if we killed him or not.’”

Hudson contended that Lackey’s confession was weak, and thus, so was the prosecution’s case.

“First of all, the only real evidence they had about us being involved was from (Lackey) the third guy driving the car,” said Hudson in 2004. “And Lackey had been so obviously coerced to testify. Cause he was a little bitty small guy and he was extremely nervous...If it’s true, that he was the guy that was driving the car, then he was having to testify to something that he had done bad, and that in itself would lead me to believe that there was great coercion there.”

Federal agent James Simpson said Lackey’s confession was a way to ease the burden of a guilty conscience.

“James Lackey’s motive in confessing was not that he had been made promises, but rather was from relief from guilt,” said Simpson, as quoted in Shipp’s book. “Basically, Lackey seemed like a decent person who got caught up in something because he wanted to be part of a gang.”

Federal agents also questioned Herbert Guest, a garage owner and Klansman, who said that Sims and Myers told him they had killed Penn.

“(On July 12) Cecil Myers and Sims were talking in front of my garage,” Guest told investigators. “I overheard one of them say that they thought the car had gone into the river and missed the bridge as they had not seen it all the way back to Athens. On Monday night, July 13, sometime after dark, I heard Sims and Cecil Myers’ conversation at my garage. While I listened, they talked about the murder of Penn. At this time, they told me they were the ones that shot at the car in which Penn was killed.”

A DENIAL OF CHARGES

By the time the trial of Myers and Sims began, Lackey had spent several weeks in jail for his role in the murder and he issued another statement, recanting his previous implication of his two Klan friends as the gunmen.

“After harassment for a period of 30 days with the loss of sleep and continued interrogation, after this my mental condition was at its lowest ebb and (I) was only glad to make any statements or sign anything,” said Lackey, who refused to testify in the trial.

Guest also refused to take the stand.

But after much debate, statements from Lackey and Guest to investigators were admitted into court.

Meanwhile, Judge Skelton allowed Sims and Myers to take the stand without being cross examined, and both testified that they had nothing to do with the killing. (The unsworn statement law was later ruled unconstitutional.)

“I can assure you that I had nothing to do with this killing of Lemuel Penn,” said Myers. “I believe that it is said that it happened about five o’clock in the morning, and I do believe that I was in town, in Athens at this time.”

Hudson said he “didn’t feel one way or another about it — their guilt or innocence,” saying that a defense attorney can’t worry about that.

“I never do; I can’t,” said Hudson. “You just have to go on and do it. They never told me they did it and nobody ever confessed that they did it or none of the other people in the Ku Klux. They were just old working boys around town and surrounding counties, but nobody ever told me who did it. I didn’t care. That wasn’t what I was to do.”

PROSECUTION’S CLOSING ARGUMENTS

Solicitor General Clete Johnson told jurors that statements from Lackey and Guest provided overwhelming evidence that Lackey had driven Myers and Sims, and that the two gunmen committed cold-blooded murder.

“These three men deliberately followed that car down that road for the purpose of indiscriminate murder,” said Johnson. “They didn’t care who they were killing...This killing was all unprovoked and there was no mitigating circumstances. It was just cold-blooded assassination.”

Johnson linked the killing to the assassination of John F. Kennedy just months earlier.

“The assassination in this case, when they shot Lemuel A. Penn with a shotgun, it was just as great an assassination and just as much an assassination as when President Kennedy was shot down by a rifle, the same situation exactly...”

Johnson demanded that the jury recognize that no one had the right to take Lemuel Penn’s life.

“I submit to you that Lt. Col. Lemuel A. Penn was a man,” said Johnson. “He could feel pain. He wanted to live. He thought as much of his life as these defendants think of theirs. He thought as much of his life as you do. He thought as much of his life as I do mine, and he had the right to live. Gentlemen, have the courage to do what’s right.”

The prosecutor added that Madison County residents should be outraged that men from Athens brought their violent ways into the county.

“Let it be known to the world that Madison County don’t appreciate people from Athens, Georgia, coming here...to kill people,” said Johnson. “Let the world know that it’s not right.”

The prosecutor called for the death penalty, saying that capital punishment was designed for cases in which “the crime is so revolting that the criminal responsible for it is not entitled to one parcel of sympathy or mercy, because they showed no sympathy or mercy.”

“How can we show sympathy or mercy to people like this?” asked Johnson. “Now, gentlemen, this is a case where that extreme penalty is called for under the law to fit the circumstances.”

Clete Johnson’s son, Don Johnson, was 16 at the time of the trial. He spoke at a 2006 sign dedication ceremony for Lemuel Penn.

“It was a lot like a ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ scene,” said Johnson. “It was still segregated, with the blacks in the balcony and everybody else downstairs. It was completely packed. There were news people from all over the world. It was as hot as it could be. There was no air conditioning. And I-85 was not completed. So Hwy. 29 was the main highway running south. So trucks ran around the courthouse and they had to shift down and shift up to get around the courthouse. So the judge made them detour around it because it was so loud with the windows open. It was a very interesting environment there.”

DEFENSE TEAM’S CLOSING ARGUMENTS

Hudson argued that the prosecution’s case was based on circumstantial evidence and that Lackey’s confession was coerced. He reminded jurors of the testimony of a psychiatrist who said Lackey was mentally ill, “a man with a paranoid personality who doesn’t trust anybody in the world.”

“He thinks he has a misshapen head and thinks people stare at him and laugh,” said Hudson, as quoted in Shipp’s book. “And he has completely repudiated everything he said in the statement.

While Hudson focused on Lackey, defense attorney John Darsey spoke out against the federal government, saying that FBI agents had been sent to Madison County with the instructions of “Don’t come back until you bring us white meat.”

Shipp recalled in his book that Darsey “roared at ‘the carpet bagging administration of justice,” with President Johnson sending “swarms” of FBI agents to the area and “infiltrating our land.”

“Never let it be said,” Darsey shouted, “that a Madison County jury converted an electric chair into a sacrificial altar on which the pure flesh of a member of the human race was sacrificed to the savage, revengeful appetites of a raging mob....When they couldn’t get white meat, they built a sham of a case.”

THE VERDICT

The jury suspended deliberations at 6:40 p.m., Sept. 4, 1964, then resumed deliberations after dinner at 8:40 p.m. and reached a verdict at 10 p.m.

“The courtroom was crowded and hot and absolutely silent,” Shipp wrote.

“Mr. Foreman and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?” Judge Skelton asked.

Henry Snelling, the clerk of court, read the verdict.

“We, the jury, find the defendants, Joseph Howard Sims and Cecil Myers, not guilty.”

According to Shipp, there was applause and some cheering. And prosecutor Johnson even congratulated Sims and Myers: “There was nothing personal in this,” he said.

FEDERAL CONVICTIONS

In June 1966, nearly two years after the acquittal, Sims and Myers faced federal charges that they were part of a Klan conspiracy to keep out-of-state blacks out of the north Georgia area, using violence and intimidation to accomplish that aim.

The two were tried in federal court in Athens. Hudson recalled that one day during the trial a photographer tried to snap a picture of Myers on the courthouse steps, and the defendant knocked him down. Hudson remembered that someone shouted “G@#D@#$ Cecil, I don’t believe I would have done that!”

U.S. attorney Floyd Buford prosecuted the Klansmen.

“We are not trying Myers and Sims for murder,” said Buford, as quoted by Shipp. “We are trying them for conspiracy. But in order to prove our conspiracy charge, we are going to prove to you that (Penn’s murder) was part of that plan...It was part of a broad conspiracy to keep out-of-state Negroes from coming into the Athens area.”

Both Sims and Myers were convicted on federal charges. Lackey, the driver of the car, never served a day in prison.

FATE OF THE DEFENDANTS

In May 1966, as he awaited the federal trial, Sims shot his 35-year-old wife in the face, wounding, but not killing her.

So Sims went to state prison for shooting his wife before serving his federal sentence, which began Dec. 31, 1970 at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. He was later transferred to Atlanta and released Oct. 20, 1976.

At 58, Sims was shot once in the chest and killed by a 12-gauge shotgun, the kind of gun used in the Penn murder, at a flea market. His killer was identified as his friend Edward U. Skinner.

Myers served about six years from 1966 to 1972, first at Terre Haute and then at a minimum security prison at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. He was released from all federal supervision on Dec. 19, 1975.

According to Shipp, Myers returned to northeast Georgia and worked as a truck driver, textile machinist and brick mason.

When The Journal tried to contact Myers by phone in 2004 for a story on the 40th anniversary of the murder, a woman answered. She said he was sleeping and could not talk, then she asked who’s calling. When told that the newspaper was doing a piece on the Lemuel Penn murder and would like to speak with Cecil Myers, she responded “He’s not interested,” and hung up.

LEGACY OF THE CASE

The Lemuel Penn murder case was nationally significant, a signature event in the Civil Rights era.

Defense attorney Hudson said in 2004 that when he looked back on the Penn case and he thought that “tragic things are triggers to improvement.”

“I’m not a particularly religious person, but a few years ago I was listening to this country preacher at a funeral,” said Hudson. “He said this: ‘God is so very kind that he will not let us hurt unless it is best.’ And I’ve wondered about that, and thought about it for a couple of years. And I believe that was a true statement. Tragedy and everything else that happens to us: death, disability, all of those things eventually end up doing something good. So that’s really the way I feel about the whole thing.”

Shipp looked back on the case and remembered that “the slaying of Lemuel Penn was one the most tragic yet least noted acts of violence during the Civil Rights era.”

“Penn was slain for no reason other than he happened to be black and his car bore D.C. license plates,” wrote Shipp in a 2004 interview with this newspaper. “He was not a Civil-Rights activist and even sought to avoid confrontations during his sojourn in Georgia. Since he was not connected with the Movement, his death was all but shrugged off by many so-called Civil Rights leaders. Penn was simply serving his country as a military reserve officer when he came to Georgia and lost his life.”

He added: “Fortunately, our state leaders reacted swiftly and properly to investigate the murder and demonstrate to the nation that we would not tolerate such outrages. Georgia was spared much of the turmoil that other Southern states suffered during the 1960s simply because our leaders made it clear that they would not abide lawlessness in the name of defying the federal government.”

Shipp also noted that “Madison County bears no special responsibility for Col. Penn’s death.”

“What happened to Penn in Madison County could have happened in 1964 to him or someone like him in almost any other rural county in the South,” said Shipp. “He was an innocent and random victim of hate in a regional revolution that could have been much more devastating.”

“I then kept my eye in the rearview mirror and I could see that the lights were there and that they were actually gaining on us as we proceeded down this highway,” said Brown.

Brown lost control of the car at the intersection of Hwy. 72 and Hwy. 172 and the vehicle came to rest in a ditch by the railroad track.

“We felt helpless, at least I did,” said Brown, who shouted at a passing car, “Help us if you can, someone has been killed.”

The driver of the car summoned Colbert policeman Billy Smith, who then contacted Madison County sheriff Dewey Seagraves.

The news of the murder would quickly reach President Lyndon Johnson.

A KLAN CASE

In his 1981 book “Murder at Broad River Bridge,” well-known Georgia political commentator Bill Shipp detailed the pattern of violence and destruction by the Ku Klux Klan in the Athens area in the early 1960s, such as the burning of a Catholic children’s camp, which welcomed black youth, or the shooting of two black teenagers from cars owned by members of the Klan.

There was also a group of KKK “nightriders” who drove the streets of Athens on “security patrol” with an emphasis on keeping the races apart.

Jim Hudson, who along with John Darsey represented Myers and Sims in the murder trial and who died in 2010, said in a 2004 interview with this newspaper, that there was never any question about the defendants’ membership in the Klan.

“These fellows were members of the Ku Klux,” said Hudson of his clients. “There wasn’t any question about that; they didn’t wear masks or anything. They were bona fide in their belief that the races ought not be integrated, which is wrong, but that’s what they felt at the time. A lot of other people did too. Of course, it was wrong, still is.”

When federal investigators came to Athens to investigate the Penn murder, they focused on the Klan, a group known to resort to violence to maintain segregation.

A CONFESSION

The federal investigators began receiving tips from paid informants in the Klan. And one of the names that they kept hearing was James Lackey. So the agents began questioning Lackey, who first told them that he didn’t know anything about the murder of Lemuel Penn and neither did Howard Sims or Cecil Myers — a denial that was an unintended implication.

The FBI agents continued questioning Lackey, emphasizing that there would be no reward for speaking up except a clean conscience. And on Aug. 6, Lackey confessed that he had driven the car in the shooting and that Sims and Myers were the gunmen.

“I’m going to tell you the truth,” Lackey told the FBI agents. “I drove the car. But I didn’t think those sonofabitches were going to kill him.”

He added: “When I was alongside the Negroes’ car, both Myers and Sims fired shotguns into the Negroes’ car. I drove on by the Negro car and turned around and came back. I didn’t see the car into which the shots were fired as we returned from the area of the bridge to Athens.”

Lackey’s confession statement included a number of details about the night. For instance, he said Sims saw the D.C. tag of the car the victim was driving and commented “that must be some of President Johnson’s boys.”

“The original reason for our following the colored men was because we had heard that Martin Luther King might make Georgia a testing ground with the Civil Rights Bill,” said Lackey. “We thought some out of town niggers might stir up some trouble in Athens.”

Lackey said Sims and Myers insisted that Lackey follow the car driven by the black men out of town.

“They had me go out of town so it would not look like like someone from Athens did the shooting,” said Lackey.

Lackey said the gun used by Myers “was the shotgun that hangs on the wall of Guest’s Garage” and that the gun used by Myers was “his own gun which he placed in the Chevy II earlier in the evening.”

“As soon as we got back to Guest’s Garage both Myers and Sims cleaned the shotguns in the garage,” Lackey said. “They wiped the guns off with a rag. (Herbert) Guest asked what happened and Sims said, ‘We shot one, but we don’t know if we killed him or not.’”

Hudson contended that Lackey’s confession was weak, and thus, so was the prosecution’s case.

“First of all, the only real evidence they had about us being involved was from (Lackey) the third guy driving the car,” said Hudson in 2004. “And Lackey had been so obviously coerced to testify. Cause he was a little bitty small guy and he was extremely nervous...If it’s true, that he was the guy that was driving the car, then he was having to testify to something that he had done bad, and that in itself would lead me to believe that there was great coercion there.”

Federal agent James Simpson said Lackey’s confession was a way to ease the burden of a guilty conscience.

“James Lackey’s motive in confessing was not that he had been made promises, but rather was from relief from guilt,” said Simpson, as quoted in Shipp’s book.

“Basically, Lackey seemed like a decent person who got caught up in something because he wanted to be part of a gang.”

Federal agents also questioned Herbert Guest, a garage owner and Klansman, who said that Sims and Myers told him they had killed Penn.

“(On July 12) Cecil Myers and Sims were talking in front of my garage,” Guest told investigators. “I overheard one of them say that they thought the car had gone into the river and missed the bridge as they had not seen it all the way back to Athens. On Monday night, July 13, sometime after dark, I heard Sims and Cecil Myers’ conversation at my garage. While I listened, they talked about the murder of Penn. At this time, they told me they were the ones that shot at the car in which Penn was killed.”

A DENIAL OF CHARGES

By the time the trial of Myers and Sims began, Lackey had spent several weeks in jail for his role in the murder and he issued another statement, recanting his previous implication of his two Klan friends as the gunmen.

“After harassment for a period of 30 days with the loss of sleep and continued interrogation, after this my mental condition was at its lowest ebb and (I) was only glad to make any statements or sign anything,” said Lackey, who refused to testify in the trial.

Guest also refused to take the stand.

But after much debate, statements from Lackey and Guest to investigators were admitted into court.

Meanwhile, Judge Skelton allowed Sims and Myers to take the stand without being cross examined, and both testified that they had nothing to do with the killing. (The unsworn statement law was later ruled unconstitutional.)

“I can assure you that I had nothing to do with this killing of Lemuel Penn,” said Myers. “I believe that it is said that it happened about five o’clock in the morning, and I do believe that I was in town, in Athens at this time.”

Hudson said he “didn’t feel one way or another about it — their guilt or innocence,” saying that a defense attorney can’t worry about that.

“I never do; I can’t,” said Hudson. “You just have to go on and do it. They never told me they did it and nobody ever confessed that they did it or none of the other people in the Ku Klux. They were just old working boys around town and surrounding counties, but nobody ever told me who did it. I didn’t care. That wasn’t what I was to do.”

PROSECUTION’S CLOSING ARGUMENTS

Solicitor General Clete Johnson told jurors that statements from Lackey and Guest provided overwhelming evidence that Lackey had driven Myers and Sims, and that the two gunmen committed cold-blooded murder.

“These three men deliberately followed that car down that road for the purpose of indiscriminate murder,” said Johnson. “They didn’t care who they were killing...This killing was all unprovoked and there was no mitigating circumstances. It was just cold-blooded assassination.”

Johnson linked the killing to the assassination of John F. Kennedy just months earlier.

“The assassination in this case, when they shot Lemuel A. Penn with a shotgun, it was just as great an assassination and just as much an assassination as when President Kennedy was shot down by a rifle, the same situation exactly...”

Johnson demanded that the jury recognize that no one had the right to take Lemuel Penn’s life.

“I submit to you that Lt. Col. Lemuel A. Penn was a man,” said Johnson. “He could feel pain. He wanted to live. He thought as much of his life as these defendants think of theirs. He thought as much of his life as you do. He thought as much of his life as I do mine, and he had the right to live. Gentlemen, have the courage to do what’s right.”

The prosecutor added that Madison County residents should be outraged that men from Athens brought their violent ways into the county.

“Let it be known to the world that Madison County don’t appreciate people from Athens, Georgia, coming here...to kill people,” said Johnson. “Let the world know that it’s not right.”

The prosecutor called for the death penalty, saying that capital punishment was designed for cases in which “the crime is so revolting that the criminal responsible for it is not entitled to one parcel of sympathy or mercy, because they showed no sympathy or mercy.”

“How can we show sympathy or mercy to people like this?” asked Johnson. “Now, gentlemen, this is a case where that extreme penalty is called for under the law to fit the circumstances.”

Clete Johnson’s son, Don Johnson, was 16 at the time of the trial. He spoke at a 2006 sign dedication ceremony for Lemuel Penn.

“It was a lot like a ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ scene,” said Johnson. “It was still segregated, with the blacks in the balcony and everybody else downstairs. It was completely packed. There were news people from all over the world. It was as hot as it could be. There was no air conditioning. And I-85 was not completed. So Hwy. 29 was the main highway running south. So trucks ran around the courthouse and they had to shift down and shift up to get around the courthouse. So the judge made them detour around it because it was so loud with the windows open. It was a very interesting environment there.”

DEFENSE TEAM’S CLOSING ARGUMENTS

Hudson argued that the prosecution’s case was based on circumstantial evidence and that Lackey’s confession was coerced. He reminded jurors of the testimony of a psychiatrist who said Lackey was mentally ill, “a man with a paranoid personality who doesn’t trust anybody in the world.”

“He thinks he has a misshapen head and thinks people stare at him and laugh,” said Hudson, as quoted in Shipp’s book. “And he has completely repudiated everything he said in the statement.

While Hudson focused on Lackey, defense attorney John Darsey spoke out against the federal government, saying that FBI agents had been sent to Madison County with the instructions of “Don’t come back until you bring us white meat.”

Shipp recalled in his book that Darsey “roared” at ‘the carpet bagging administration of justice,” with President Johnson sending “swarms” of FBI agents to the area and “infiltrating our land.”

“Never let it be said,” Darsey shouted, “that a Madison County jury converted an electric chair into a sacrificial altar on which the pure flesh of a member of the human race was sacrificed to the savage, revengeful appetites of a raging mob....When they couldn’t get white meat, they built a sham of a case.”

THE VERDICT

The jury suspended deliberations at 6:40 p.m., Sept. 4, 1964, then resumed deliberations after dinner at 8:40 p.m. and reached a verdict at 10 p.m.

“The courtroom was crowded and hot and absolutely silent,” Shipp wrote.

“Mr. Foreman and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?” Judge Skelton asked.

Henry Snelling, the clerk of court, read the verdict.

“We, the jury, find the defendants, Joseph Howard Sims and Cecil Myers, not guilty.

According to Shipp, there was applause and some cheering. And prosecutor Johnson even congratulated Sims and Myers: “There was nothing personal in this,” he said.

FEDERAL CONVICTIONS

In June 1966, nearly two years after the acquittal, Sims and Myers faced federal charges that they were part of a Klan conspiracy to keep out-of-state blacks out of the north Georgia area, using violence and intimidation to accomplish that aim.

The two were tried in federal court in Athens. Hudson recalled that one day during the trial a photographer tried to snap a picture of Myers on the courthouse steps, and the defendant knocked him down.

U.S. attorney Floyd Buford prosecuted the Klansmen.

“We are not trying Myers and Sims for murder,” said Buford, as quoted by Shipp. “We are trying them for conspiracy. But in order to prove our conspiracy charge, we are going to prove to you that (Penn’s murder) was part of that plan...It was part of a broad conspiracy to keep out-of-state Negroes from coming into the Athens area.”

Both Sims and Myers were convicted on federal charges. Lackey, the driver of the car, never served a day in prison.

FATE OF THE DEFENDANTS

In May 1966, as he awaited the federal trial, Sims shot his 35-year-old wife in the face, wounding, but not killing her.

So Sims went to state prison for shooting his wife before serving his federal sentence, which began Dec. 31, 1970 at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. He was later transferred to Atlanta and released Oct. 20, 1976.

At 58, Sims was shot once in the chest and killed by a 12-gauge shotgun, the kind of gun used in the Penn murder, at a flea market. His killer was identified as his friend Edward U. Skinner.

Myers served about six years from 1966 to 1972, first at Terre Haute and then at a minimum security prison at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. He was released from all federal supervision on Dec. 19, 1975.

According to Shipp, Myers returned to northeast Georgia and worked as a truck driver, textile machinist and brick mason.

When The Journal tried to contact Myers by phone in 2004 for a story on the 40th anniversary of the murder, a woman answered. She said he was sleeping and could not talk, then she asked who’s calling. When told that the newspaper was doing a piece on the Lemuel Penn murder and would like to speak with Cecil Myers, she responded “He’s not interested,” and hung up.

LEGACY OF THE CASE

Defense attorney Hudson said in 2004 that when he looked back on the Penn case, he thought that “tragic things are triggers to improvement.”

“I’m not a particularly religious person, but a few years ago I was listening to this country preacher at a funeral,” said Hudson. “He said this: ‘God is so very kind that he will not let us hurt unless it is best.’ And I’ve wondered about that, and thought about it for a couple of years. And I believe that was a true statement. Tragedy and everything else that happens to us: death, disability, all of those things eventually end up doing something good. So that’s really the way I feel about the whole thing.”

Shipp looked back on the case and remembered that “the slaying of Lemuel Penn was one of the most tragic yet least noted acts of violence during the Civil Rights era.”

“Penn was slain for no reason other than he happened to be black and his car bore D.C. license plates,” wrote Shipp in a 2004 interview with this newspaper. “He was not a Civil-Rights activist and even sought to avoid confrontations during his sojourn in Georgia. Since he was not connected with the Movement, his death was all but shrugged off by many so-called Civil Rights leaders. Penn was simply serving his country as a military reserve officer when he came to Georgia and lost his life.”

He added: “Fortunately, our state leaders reacted swiftly and properly to investigate the murder and demonstrate to the nation that we would not tolerate such outrages. Georgia was spared much of the turmoil that other Southern states suffered during the 1960s simply because our leaders made it clear that they would not abide lawlessness in the name of defying the federal government.”

Shipp also noted that “Madison County bears no special responsibility for Col. Penn’s death.”

“What happened to Penn in Madison County could have happened in 1964 to him or someone like him in almost any other rural county in the South,” said Shipp. “He was an innocent and random victim of hate in a regional revolution that could have been much more devastating.”

PENN'S DAUGHTER TALKS ABOUT LEARNING OF THE MURDER

Linda Yancey, Lemuel Penn’s oldest daughter, was asked in 2004 if she would be willing to share any of her memories of her father or if she might give some perspective on how the family responded to the murder. She responded with this written account:

“On the night of July 10, 1964, our father had called, as usual to speak with each of us — my mother, brother, sister, and myself — but to go over his itinerary for his return trip to our home in Washington, D.C. from Army Reserve Training at Fort Benning in the state of Georgia.

In preparation, my sister, Sharon, and I had made new dresses. My mother, Georgia, had made a concerted effort to make special preparations for our father since they had not seen each other in two weeks. We were all concerned due to the warning given by those in command at the military installation of imminent Ku Klux Klan (caucasians who wore white robes with two eye-hole openings in hoods, equipped with ropes for hanging, crosses for burning, as a means for frightening and controlling the Negro population or anyone else who believed in equality for all) activity in the area surrounding the Army Post of Ft. Benning.

Early on the morning of July 11, 1964, our mother, Georgia Penn, received the most heartbreaking information from Charles E. Brown, one of the other two reservists returning to the Washington Metropolitan area, that her beloved companion had been in an accident on Hwy. 172 outside of Colbert, Georgia. This man, a humanitarian, who would always assist others because he saw them as human beings — not for their ethnicity, color, or creed — had been assassinated unmercifullly by a passing carload of caucasians firng two shotgun blasts into the car containing Lemuel Penn, the driver and the two other reservists, Charles E. Brown and John Howard.

At this moment, Georgia calmly went to the rooms of her three children: Linda, age 14; Sharon, age 11; and Lem, Jr., age 4; to awaken them. Another telephone call would be received with more details — that her beloved had been assassinated. Meanwhile, my sister and I were bathing in our bathroom and were only able to hear bits and pieces of the telephone conversation. Hearing, the word “accident” sounded ridiculous, since our dad had never had one. Eventually, our mother would have each of us meet in my bedroom, to quietly tell us that our wonderful, loving father had been in an automobile accident — that he had been shot. Immediately, I inquired several times as to whether he was alive. Finally she responded that our father had entered another world. (Imagine how she must have felt — here was a man who had served meritoriously in World War II in the Philippines, returning without one scratch, to be wounded fatally during a time of peace — what was she going to do without her beloved companion since they were still very much in love? How would she raise the children, although she knew there were sufficient finances, but her husband had always handled these? What was she going to do?)

Somehow, the neighbors were alerted. Fortunately, three or four physicians, an attorney, an opera singer and three educators resided on our street who were family friends. The physician across the street came over as soon as he heard. Somehow, our home environment was still, like the early morn. Family members, very close friends, and the like began appearing/calling to express their deepest sympathy and assisting with the multitudinous arrangements for the return of our father’s remains. My mother also had the task of informing our father’s mother and sister of his demise. Where were we, what were we doing at this time? We, the children were kept busy with our normal activies for awhile, such as straightening our bedrooms, eating breakfast, taking care of our tri-colored collie, Zorro, etc.

Our mother allowed my brother to ride his red tricycle outside on the front sidewalk for a few moments. After a fashion, I had him come inside since he was saying, “My Dad has been shot,” repeatedly as he rode back and forth in front of the house. The first and second levels of our home were maintained in a normal state. Towards the latter part of the morning, family members began organizing everything in the recreation room located in the basement of our home. In due time, reporters, curious bypassers — whether in cars or on foot — would begin appearing on our street for the next few days. The telephone rang constantly. The military sent a special escort to notify my mother of dad’s demise along with making arrangements for his return, etc. We went to the airport one dark, rainy night to meet the airplane returning our father’s body in a flag-draped casket with a special military honor guard.

At this point, the funeral director had arrived with his hearse, to prepare the body of Lt. Col. Lemuel A. Penn for the customary period of mourning (the wake — viewing of the body by family, friends, associates for two to three days), the church service conducted by Reverend Stanford Harris at the Asbury Methodist Church. When the funeral cortege arrived at the gates of Arlington National Cemetery, the casket was tranferred to the same caisson used for President John F. Kennedy with the same white horses. The pathway to his burial site all through the cemetery was lined with men in uniform of all branches of the service saluting as the caisson passed by. In other words, full military honors, including the 21-gun salute to his final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. (July 20, 1964)

Our beloved mother decided to take a year of sabbatical leave from her positon as a home econmics instructor on the middle school level to provide love and support for us, her three children. She succumbed from grief and lupus.

Georgia and Lemuel Penn had not only provided their children with a wealth of experiences at a very early age, but had also instilled a very high set of standards to last them a lifetime. Their legacy was carried on because all three children completed their education at institutions of higher learning becoming successful in their fields — Linda, an educator for 32 years; Sharon, an insurance litigator, Lemuel Jr., a captain with a major airline. All three children have married. Lemuel has two sons and Linda has a daughter who followed in her grandfather’s stead. She is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and is serving her second tour of duty in the Middle East.”

— Linda Yancey, daughter of Lemuel A. Penn

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