Updated: August 3, 2012 6:26AM
BRANDON, Miss. — Jack Brooks Lacy Jr., who as an assistant U.S. attorney led the first federal murder prosecution in a civil rights-era killing, has died. He was 69.
Mr. Lacy died Friday of a single bullet to the head, Rankin County Coroner Jimmy Roberts said. He said he would not have the autopsy report until Monday, but suspects suicide.
Mr. Lacy was known for his work in the 2003 conviction of former Ku Klux Klansman Ernest Avants for aiding and abetting the murder of black sharecropper Ben Chester White on federal property. Prosecutors said White, 67, was killed in the Homochitto National Forest in 1966 in an attempt to lure Martin Luther King Jr. to southwest Mississippi for assassination.
After his federal work, Mr. Lacy became assistant state attorney general for the Mississippi Band of Choctaws.
“Jack had an undying commitment to doing what was right as a public servant,” John Dowdy, criminal division chief for the U.S. attorney’s office said.
“His passion over the years became serving for the betterment of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. He will be sorely missed, no question,” Dowdy said.
Mr. Lacy’s first job was as a disc jockey after he ran out of money to attend the University of Mississippi, where he graduated in 1968 with a degree in English literature.
He taught there for 14 years before finishing law school at age 40.
In 2003, Mr. Lacy said the only reason federal prosecutors were able to bring the White case back to court was that the killing was found to have taken place on federal land.
“It’s one of those incredible accidents of history,” Mr. Lacy said.
A state jury had acquitted Avants of murder in 1967.
Prosecutors said Avants and two companions offered White $2 and a soda to help them find a dog lost in the woods. White, who had no connection with the civil rights movement, was driven to a national forest, shot to death and dumped into a creek bed. His last words, according to testimony: “Oh Lord, what have I done to deserve this?”
The verdict was returned less than three hours after final arguments in the case and just three days after the trial began.
According to court documents, Avants told investigators in 1967 he had fired a shotgun blast into White’s head after another man killed him with 15 to 18 automatic rifle bullets.