March 1, 2024

Civil Rights

Delayed Justice

Bob Snell | 2/1/2006

REOPENED: Law enforcement officials are reopening the murder case of Johnnie Mae Chappell thanks to the persistence of Shelton Chappell and a pair of detectives. The photo behind Chappell is the only one he has of his mother.
The only picture Shelton Chappell has of his mother is a 1964 photograph of her body on a mortuary slab, his father staring at her mournfully. The mother of 10 had been gunned down on the side of a north Jacksonville road in a random race-related killing.

Thanks to determined work by a pair of Jacksonville police detectives, four men were arrested and charged with Johnnie Mae Chappell's murder. The story could have ended there, but charges against three of the men were dropped after evidence was mysteriously lost, and the only person convicted of Chappell's murder, J.W. Rich, served just three years in prison.

Now, 32 years later, Chappell's murder has again become front-page news. After years agitating for justice, Shelton Chappell and the now-retired detectives have forced state and local law enforcement officials to reopen the case. Last spring, Gov. Jeb Bush ordered the FDLE to "determine whether enough evidence exists" to file criminal charges against the men who were never charged. And this fall, one of the city's top law firms, Spohrer Wilner Maxwell & Matthews, agreed to help Shelton Chappell with any civil or criminal actions related to the case.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has also pledged its support. Recently, Johnnie Mae Chappell became the first Florida resident to have her name engraved on the center's Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala.

"The Chappells deserve their day in court," says attorney Robert Spohrer. "Justice has been too long delayed."

Tags: Politics & Law, Northeast, Government/Politics & Law

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