Civil Rights Case Attorney To Begin Own Sentence After Corruption Charges

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A lawyer who became famous in a landmark civil rights case has now become infamous for his participation in a corruption scandal.

Bobby DeLaughter was instrumental in prosecuting Byron De La Beckwith, the Ku Klux Klan member who gunned down the NAACP leader Medgar Evers in 1963. DeLaughter, who was portrayed in the film version of the trial, “Ghosts of Mississippi,” by Alec Baldwin, gave a closing statement that has been called one of the greatest in modern legal history. Now he is beginning an 18-month prison sentence at a Kentucky facility, after having been convicted on charges of obstruction of justice.

The complicated story of DeLaughter’s fall from grace involves several people, but perhaps most instrumental in the downfall are DeLaughter’s mentor, Ed Peters, and a high-powered attorney named Dickie Scruggs.

Scruggs, who is the brother-in-law of former Senator Trent Lott, made tens of millions of dollars litigating asbestos and tobacco cases, but is now serving seven years in prison for having attempted to influence judges, including DeLaughter, who became a state judge in 2002.

According to prosecutors in the corruption case, Scruggs paid Peters $1 million in exchange for his influence with DeLaughter. DeLaughter was presiding over a case that was potentially worth $15 million.

DeLaughter has denied being influenced in the case or accepting any money; he did plead guilty but only to obstruction of justice for having lied to FBI officers investigating the scandal. More serious charges against DeLaughter—mail fraud conspiracy and involvement in a bribery scheme—were dismissed as part of a deal. Peters, on the other hand, was granted immunity in return for cooperating with prosecutors.

Family members of Medgar Evars have stood behind the judge, raising money to help pay his expenses while in prison and publicly stating their support.

Charles Evers, the brother of the slain civil rights activist, said, “We will do whatever’s necessary to help him get over his dilemma, and I’ll say that over and over again.”

Evers also expressed scorn that Peters—who actually accepted the bribes—was given immunity, whereas DeLaughter was forced to take a plea deal. “The man who squealed on him should be going to jail,” said Evers.

 

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