Tennessee Legislators Are Trying To Help Solve Decades-Old Civil Rights Crimes | Nashville Public Radio

Tennessee Legislators Are Trying To Help Solve Decades-Old Civil Rights Crimes

Sep 21, 2017

A panel of Tennessee lawmakers tasked with helping solve Civil Rights era crimes heard testimonies for the first time on Thursday.

The meeting illuminated the frequent challenges investigators face in reopening cases that went cold decades ago.

Since 2008, the Justice Department has reopened more than a hundred unsolved civil rights cases across the country, but only a handful have been successfully prosecuted. 

Often key suspects pass away, evidence disappears, and, as former FBI agent Cynthia Deitle explains, witness testimony gets faulty.

“Memories of witnesses have become unreliable due to the passage of time," says Deitle. "And those with information of the murders are still fearful of the perpetrators and their families.”

But one witness who appeared before legislators could still describe her experience vividly. Marcia Sanders-Patterson, who lived through the Civil Rights movement in Brownsville, recounted in depth the time her father was beaten and left to die.

“I can remember my father’s body being thrown on the porch," says Sanders-Patterson. "I can still hear the sound of the thump as the body landed on the porch.”

Sanders-Patterson says that even though she and other victims may have already found closure, these renewed investigations will help keep law enforcement from repeating past mistakes.