50 years later, racial killing haunts family

By Chris Robbins - Producer , Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Johnnie Mae Chappell was gunned down 50 years ago Sunday because of the color of her skin. Her family held a vigil to honor her memory and demand justice for her murder.

Chappell's killing came in a dark time for Jacksonville. In 1964, the River City endured the race riots downtown right before segregation ended.

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 -- J.W. Rich, Elmer Kato, Wayne Chessman and James Davis -- on charges of first-degree murder 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.

Johnnie Chappell's youngest son, Shelton Chappell (pictured below), attended the vigil Sunday and reminded the community that his family feels like justice still hasn't been served.

"Parents have more children but you don't have more parents. That was all I had," Shelton said. "Her last words was to my father, 'Take care of my children.' I can't imagine what my father was feeling, what he was thinking."

The Justice Coalition led a ceremony Sunday night near where Johnnie Chappell was killed. Even though it's been 50 years since her death they want to keep her memory alive. Celebrants prayed, sang and lit candles at the vigil.

Sheriff John Rutherford was in attendance and said it doesn't matter whether it's this year or 50 years ago, every case is important to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

"It's still an open wound for that family and if we could help in some way just to relieve some of that pain and suffering, we would certainly love to do that," Rutherford said.

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

Cervone, who's 8th Circuit serves the Gainesville area, was given one year to investigate and prosecute the case. He reported his findings after a five-month Revision of the Investigation Summary prepared by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

"(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 said in a statement.

Copyright 2014 by News4Jax.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.