There are family members who still want to know why Willie Edwards, a 24-year-old husband and father, was abducted and beaten by members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1957, then forced to leap to his death from a bridge over the Alabama River near Montgomery, Alabama.
There are still friends of Louis Allen, a farmer and father of four in Liberty, Mississippi, who want to know why he was shot to death on his own property in 1964, possibly by the county sheriff.
The deaths are just two of 128 lynchings of black Southerners in the decades after World War II that have been investigated by the Justice Department. But its civil rights division, and a unit formed specifically to revisit such cases, analyzes the episodes solely with an eye toward prosecution. Most of the participants and witnesses are now dead, leading the department to rule most of the cases "closed."
But a group of high school students in New Jersey learned that many families want another kind of justice: The information about how their loved one died. How it was investigated. Why it wasn't prosecuted. Why it happened.
So the Hightstown High School Advanced Placement government and politics class set out to make sure details of the long-ago cases were not hidden forever. They drafted a bill requiring all the civil rights cold-case files to be collected in one place and released to the public, without the bureaucracy and delay of the Freedom of Information Act. The class lobbied to line up sponsors, get the bill out of committees in both chambers of Congress, have it voted on and approved just before Christmas, and then signed into law last month by President Donald Trump.
A number of congressional historians believe it may be the first time a high school class successfully drafted a federal bill that was signed into law on any subject, much less one exposing some of the darkest secrets of the events that helped inspire America's civil rights movement.
The students weren't born during the civil rights era and none of the crimes happened in New Jersey, but they understood the importance of unearthing records that could provide solace, and answers, to those interested in the unvarnished facts of the cases.
"The civil rights movement continues to this day," said Ali Husaini, 19, who took the AP government class immediately after the violent uprising in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. "Racism today is a continuation of racism in the past, no matter where you are in the country, and fixing the problem begins with addressing its past."
"The American people have a right to know this part of our nation's history," said Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., as he introduced the bill on the Senate floor last July. As a U.S. attorney, Jones successfully prosecuted the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham more than 37 years after it happened. He said in an interview that after the bombing case ended in 2002, "it had such a healing effect for families and communities. It was just incredible. Not just in Birmingham but all over the country. . . . Not every case can be prosecuted. But the importance of finding out the facts and getting to the truth is still important."
Jones said the Hightstown students first contacted him in 2016, before he even considered a run for the Senate. "It is such a wonderful story about how government should work on many levels," he said. "From students in high school all the way to the president's desk."
Although the bill was signed, the legislative process isn't over, and neither is the work of the Hightstown AP government class. A civilian panel must be appointed by the president to oversee the review and release of the cold-case files, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates it would cost about $10 million to finance the operation. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., a bill co-sponsor whose district includes Hightstown, said she would push the House Appropriations Committee to fund the panel, as authorized by the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act of 2018. Jones said he will be making a similar request in the Senate, and said, "I think we can get this done this year."
"We need to be transparent as a country," Coleman said, "with regards to history and our current affairs."
The initiative for the cold-case act started with Stuart Wexler, the teacher of the Hightstown High government class and author of several books on domestic terrorism. In 2015, he was discussing the Birmingham bombing case in class, and the fact that newspaper reporter Jerry Mitchell had discovered evidence in public records that led to prosecutions in 2001 and 2002. Still, there were dozens of unsolved cases where the records were sealed.
Wexler said he asked the class, "Should we try to do something? Out of that discussion came the idea of doing something along the lines of pursuing a JFK Records Act for the civil rights cases." The John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act was passed in 1992, and has gradually forced the FBI, the CIA and other agencies to release nearly all of their files on the 1963 killing, though Trump last year ordered some records withheld for three more years at the request of the investigating agencies.
"None of us had ever seen a congressional bill before," said Oslene Johnson, 19, who was in the first class to work on the project. The students divided into groups and began drafting a bill. Then in 2016, they began taking field trips to Washington to lobby the staffs of senators and congressmen to sponsor the bill. In May of that year, student Aditya Shah published an op-ed in Politico headlined, "How to get justice in civil rights cold cases," which outlined their effort.
"If any justice is to be served and closure brought to the victims' families," Shah wrote, "the government must 'crowd source' the investigation and allow the public to review the raw case materials."
The article caught the eye of Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., and he agreed to launch the bill in the House. Ryan Johnson, a spokesman for Rush, said the veteran congressman was "inspired by these students' dedication and persistence and wanted to stand with them on this meaningful legislative journey."
Rush waited until 2017 to introduce the bill so that it would have an entire session of Congress to work its way through committees in both houses. In November 2017, the prosecutor of the Birmingham bombings the class had studied - Jones - won a surprise election to the Senate after the campaign of his Republican opponent, Roy Moore, imploded in scandal. Jones agreed to carry the bill in the Senate.
"When he introduced the bill," said student James Ward, "we were in the Senate gallery. When he referenced the school and the class, it was really amazing." Ward and Wexler said that Jones's speech on the Senate floor apparently inspired Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, then presiding over the Senate, to co-sponsor the bill, and soon the bill had co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle in both chambers.
Meanwhile, the class was invited to Selma, Alabama, by Northeastern University law professor Margaret Burnham, whose Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project has been investigating cases of racial injustice in the South. Only Wexler and two of the students were able to travel to Selma, but it was a powerful experience.
"It's something different when you're experiencing and talking to these people," said Anna Trancozo, who is now a college freshman. "Family members of some of the victims, that was what really hit home. A lot of the people are still alive and still living with what they went through."
Among the people the students met in Selma was Josephine Bolling McCall. In 1947, her grandfather, Elmore Bolling, a beloved deacon and businessman, was shot to death outside Montgomery by a white man who supposedly claimed Bolling had insulted the man's wife. The man was never charged. Josephine Bolling McCall investigated the case for 30 years and found that the true cause was the white man's resentment over Bolling's superior business operations.
"He was jealous and he filled him with bullets," McCall told the Los Angeles Times last year.
The students' cold-case bill passed out of the House Oversight Committee in October, then the Senate Homeland Security Committee in December, followed by a unanimous voice vote in the Senate on Dec. 17 and a vote of 376 to 6 in the House on Dec. 21. It headed to the White House with the clock ticking on the end of the two-year congressional session.
Students began tweeting at the president, at Trump's friends, at broadcasters watched by Trump, at anyone who might influence the president to sign the bill during the government shutdown. At one point, Hightstown teachers stopped all classes at once and allowed their students to tweet messages to the president, Ward said.
Trump signed the bill Jan. 8, but issued a three-page statement indicating he had qualms with delegating authority to a review board. "I have signed the act on the understanding that the public disclosure of records may be postponed where necessary to protect executive privilege," Trump said. Still, he noted that the bill did not contain any funding for the project, and concluded, "I encourage the Congress to appropriate such funds."
Wexler said crowdsourcing the civil rights cases, with journalists, historians and family members examining the files, could turn up leads that would produce new developments, in addition to satisfying the curiosity of victims' families.
"People want different kinds of justice," said Trancozo, whether in the form of simply learning the details of a case or getting a street sign dedicated to a loved one. "A lot of people are still trying to reach that."
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is a "hardened" criminal who "repeatedly and brazenly violated the law," prosecutors told a Washington federal judge.
But in the filing submitted Friday and made partially public Saturday, they recommended no specific punishment for those crimes, saying that is the practice of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose office brought the case.
Prosecutors noted that federal guidelines call for a sentence of 17 to 22 years, although under Manafort's guilty plea in his D.C. case, the maximum he faces behind bars is 10. The special counsel team said it may ask for Judge Amy Berman Jackson to impose a sentence that runs after any prison time Manafort is given for related crimes in Virginia federal court.
"Manafort chose repeatedly and knowingly to violate the law," prosecutors said, from "garden-variety crimes such as tax fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, and bank fraud" to "more esoteric laws" involving foreign lobbying.
He lied, they noted, "to tax preparers, bookkeepers, banks, the Treasury Department, the Department of Justice National Security Division, the FBI, the Special Counsel's Office, the grand jury, his own legal counsel, Members of Congress, and members of the executive branch of the United States government."
He committed crimes while leading a presidential campaign and while out on bail before trial, and then lied to investigators after pleading guilty, prosecutors said, revealing "a hardened adherence to committing crimes and lack of remorse."
The charges in both cases flow from Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The filing helps pave the way for Manafort's sentencings in D.C. and Virginia scheduled for next month, as Mueller begins wrapping up his probe.
But the redacted, public document gives no details about Manafort's campaign interactions with Russians. Prosecutors had previously asked the judge for permission to seal material either because it related to "ongoing law enforcement investigations" or "uncharged individuals."
As part of his plea deal in September, Manafort, 69, acknowledged he was guilty of everything he was accused of both in Washington, D.C., and in Virginia: making millions as an unregistered lobbyist for Ukrainian politicians, hiding that money to avoid paying taxes, defrauding banks to pay his debts when his oligarch patrons fell out of power, and lying to cover up his crimes while trying to persuade witnesses to do the same.
The special counsel's sentencing memo details Manafort's illegal campaign to turn high-ranking American leaders against Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko and toward the pro-Russian strongman who put her in jail, Viktor Yanukovych. Hundreds of pages of exhibits show that Manafort was aware he was breaking the law and that he laundered the profits of his overseas lobbying efforts through offshore accounts.
When he appears in front of Jackson on March 13, he will already have been sentenced March 8 for related crimes in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, barring any change in the scheduling as now set for those hearings. Jackson could make the sentence she imposes run during or after his Virginia prison term. In Virginia, where Manafort was found guilty of bank and tax fraud at trial, there is no upper limit to his sentence.
In Alexandria, prosecutors have also asked only for a "serious" sentence. Federal guidelines in that case call for him to spend roughly 19 to 24 years in prison.
Mueller's prosecutors have been handing off other pending legal matters to the U.S. attorney's office for D.C., and the Department of Justice is readying for Mueller to formally conclude his work.
In New York, the Manhattan district attorney is preparing to charge Manafort with violating state tax laws and committing other financial crimes, a move designed to ensure Trump's former campaign chairman spends time in prison if the president pardons him for the convictions stemming from Mueller's probe, Bloomberg News and the New York Times reported Friday. Trump has not indicated whether he intends to pardon Manafort, though he repeatedly expressed support for him as his trial played out last year. New York's double jeopardy law, which protects defendants from being prosecuted twice for the same crimes, could pose a challenge for the district attorney's office, however.
Attorneys for Manafort are not due to file their sentencing recommendation in D.C. until Monday, having told Jackson that this week's snowstorm made it harder to meet with their client in the Alexandria jail where he has been held, and asking for a delay.
Under his plea agreement in D.C. federal prosecutors had agreed to ask Jackson to give Manafort credit at sentencing for cooperation. But because she found he lied to investigators and breached that agreement, they are no longer bound by it.
Jackson found Manafort lied about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime aide who the FBI assessed to have ties to Russian intelligence. Those contacts, prosecutors said in court, go "very much to the heart of what the special counsel's office is investigating."
Manafort gave inconsistent accounts of an August 2016 meeting in New York City at which he and Kilimnik discussed a peace plan for Ukraine, a top foreign policy priority for Russia. At the time, Manafort was still leading President Trump's campaign. He also lied about sharing polling data with Kilimnik in 2016, prosecutors said in describing how he broke his deal to cooperate truthfully.
The judge also concluded that Manafort lied about a payment that he claimed was a loan and as part of another Justice Department investigation whose focus has not been described publicly.
Defense attorneys have maintained that Manafort did not intentionally give false information and that any inconsistencies were honest mistakes.
In 2017, Kilimnik denied to The Washington Post having connections to Russian intelligence. He was indicted with Manafort on charges of conspiring to obstruct justice through witness tampering.
Kilimnik is believed to be in Moscow and therefore probably safe from arrest because Russia does not extradite its citizens.
The Washington Post's Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Jackman contributed to this report.