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Investigation Of 1964 Civil Rights Murder Comes To End

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The criminal investigation into the 1964 murder of Johnnie Mae Chappell, a woman slain in a drive-by shooting in northwest Jacksonville, ended on Tuesday.

In January 2006, Gov. Jeb Bush issued an executive order appointing special prosecutor Bill Cervone to investigate Chappell's murder.

Chappell, a mother of 10, was shot from a passing car as she walked along New Kings Road during a period of race riots in Jacksonville. Investigators at the time said four white men drove by civil unrest downtown, didn't stop, but someone in the car said,"Let's get a (expletive)."

A grand jury indicted the four men on charges of first-degree murder -- J.W. Rich, Elmer Kato, Wayne Chessman and James Davis -- but only one of them was tried or served any prison time.

Rich, the suspected shooter, was convicted of manslaughter and served three years in prison.

Gov. Bush's appointment of Cervone came one day after the results of an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was released to attorneys representing Chappell's son.

Cervone, who's 8th Circuit serves the Gainesville area, was given one year to investigate and prosecute the case, but reported his findings after a five-month revision of the Investigation Summary prepared by the FDLE.

After speaking to Chappell's family on Tuesday, Cervone released a statement saying after "reviewing the investigation into the murder of Johnnie Mae Chappell in Duval County in 1964 ... my conclusions ... are that no additional investigation is warranted and that no prosecution is legally possible."

Cervone went on to state that the statute of limitations has run out on anything but first degree murder, and that there is not enough evidence to prosecute the three co-defendants on that charge simply because they were in the car when JW Rich shot and killed Chappell.

In addition, Cervone said Florida law prevents them from being recharged due to speedy trial constraints.

State Attorney Harry Shorstein issued a statement Tuesday on the Chappell decision: "This was a tragic chapter in the history of our city and I understand the Chappell family's desire to find justice. I regret that a few have used the Chappell family's great suffering for personal, professional, or political gain."

Shorstein also commended Cervone for a comprehensive, thorough and professional investigation.

"We have nothing to hang our heads down low about because the law is the law," said Johnie Mae Chappell's son Shelton Chappell. "What my mom would feel? That we did all we could do, and I believe that she would say, 'when you have done all you can do, then just stand.'"

Shelton Chappell said that although the criminal case has been closed, the family plans to pursue civil litigation. He said Tuesday's announcement was just one step in the legal process, and that the family is confident that justice will be served.

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