April 06, 2005

Federal prosecutor, journalist will discuss civil rights cases

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A heralded investigative journalist and a former federal prosecutor who each played key roles in bringing civil rights-era violators to justice will offer distinct perspectives on their careers next week.

Jerry Mitchell, an investigative reporter with the Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Miss., and former assistant federal prosecutor Don Cochran offer their insights Wednesday, April 13, at both Southern Illinois University Carbondale and John A. Logan College.

The two are presenting, "Justice Delayed," which recounts not only their personal stories, but also how journalistic and legal issues come into play.


Media Availability

Jerry Mitchell and Don Cochran will be available to meet with reporters and photographers from 2-2:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 13, in the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute lobby.


Two distinct presentations are planned:

  • 10 a.m., O'Neill Auditorium, John A. Logan College. Mitchell and Cochran recount tragic civil rights stories of the 1960s from their view of investigating the crimes.
  • 4 p.m., Hiram H. Lesar Law Building Auditorium at SIUC. Mitchell and Cochran share how journalistic and legal issues affect researching and discerning the truth about decades-old crime.

Cochran, currently a professor at Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, successfully prosecuted Ku Klux Klan member Bobby Frank Cherry in 2002 for the 1963 bombing of Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church, in which four young girls were killed.

Mitchell has played an integral role in bringing civil rights violators to justice decades after their crime. Many credit his investigative reporting with keeping cases alive that resulted in convicting Sam Bowers in the 1966 firebombing death of civil-rights leader Vernon Dahmer.

His work resulted in the 1994 Byron De La Beckwith conviction in the 1963 death of NAACP leader Medgar Evers – and was featured in the movie, "Ghosts of Mississippi"

"Don Cochran represents the best in dogged, inspired prosecution. Jerry Mitchell represents the finest in investigative journalism. They brought racist, hate-driven murderers to justice. Their stories are compelling, and their insights will be invaluable," said Mike Lawrence, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

David Cochran teaches American History and African American history at John A. Logan College, and is Don Cochran's brother. He believes there is a "very impressive sense of reconciliation at work" in states like Mississippi, where there were "organized campaigns of terrorism to prevent a successful civil rights movement were conducted with either the state tolerating or actively encouraging the violent attacks."

The presentations are extremely important, he said.

"The civil rights movement is the greatest mass democratic movement in American history and it encountered resistance at all sorts of levels, including the constant threat of violence," he said. "Throughout, it maintained an ethic of peaceful change, and I want that story told."

The John A. Logan Center for Excellence, and the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale are primary sponsors. Other sponsors include the SIU School of Law, SIUC's College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, SIUC's School of Journalism, SIUC's History Department, the Illinois Education Association/National Education Association, and the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Developing citizen leaders with global perspectives is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.