The Cold Case Justice Initiative (CCJI) project was founded in response to the 1964 Ferriday, LA murder of shoe shop owner Frank Morris, which remains unsolved. Suspected Klan members forced Morris into his shoe shop at gunpoint and set the store on fire. Morris died four days later of severe burns.
SU College of Law students, under the supervision of Professors Paula C. Johnson and Janis L. McDonald, researched thousands of documents and worked with local investigative reporters which led to witnesses providing new information, to the appointment of a special agent by the FBI, and to a pledge by the U.S. attorney for a full review of the case. The students efforts ignited law enforcement investigation of additional deaths long suspected by the community to be racially motivated and committed by the Klan.
As a result Professors Johnson and McDonald developed the course, “Investigating and Reopening Unsolved Civil Rights Era Murders,” first offered during the 2007-08 academic year. This interdisciplinary course introduces students to civil rights history, civil rights law, criminal procedure, evidence, advocacy skills, and global human rights in the context of investigating specifically assigned civil rights era murder cases in the Southeastern U.S. Overall. The course emphasizes this work as part of the social and professional responsibility of lawyers, legal educators, and law students.
The CCJI project conducts investigations and research on unresolved cases, offers academic courses, public forums and other special events, and serves as a clearinghouse for sharing and receiving information on active cases. The CCJI insists on vigilant attention to these long unresolved racially motivated killings and continuing issues of racial justice.
This documentary on the Cold Case Justice Initiative explains how the program came about for students at the Syracuse University College of Law. Many families started to contact Professor Johnson and Professor McDonald seeking support and closure for lost loved ones, so thus they formed the CCJI to investigate these events.