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S.C. PAIR CONVICTED IN ATTACK ON BOY.

Byline: Rick Bragg The New York Times

In the late afternoon of Jan. 5, a 10-year-old African-American boy limped home from his white neighbors' house and told his father that the white family had taken him to the woods, tied him to a tree, hit him with a crowbar, fired two shotgun blasts past his head and choked him with a belt. Then, the boy said, they threatened to kill his family if he told.

He told anyway. Friday, after a weeklong trial in the low country of eastern South Carolina, a white married couple was convicted of a crime that has awakened memories that had been safely asleep in the minds of many older African-Americans here.

Benjamin Mims, an illiterate 63-year-old retired garbage truck driver, and Betty Mims, 44, were convicted Friday of aggravated assault and battery in that attack on Dwight Miller, who had come to their house to play with their 9-year-old son.

A jury of seven whites and five African-Americans deliberated more than eight hours before returning their verdict about 12:45 a.m. Although the jury found the Mimses guilty of the assault charge, it found them not guilty of second-degree lynching, the legal term for premeditated mob violence.

The split decision satisfied both the boy's lawyers and a small group of spectators and supporters, some of whom had fallen asleep on their benches during the long wait for the verdict.

``It means Dwight Miller told the truth,'' said Carl Grant, a special prosecutor brought into the case by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to represent the victim's interests and assist the state's prosecutor, Deputy Solicitor Ferrell Cochran.

Judge Thomas Cooper will sentence the Mimses on Dec. 2, and he warned them that the crime called for jail time. The maximum sentence under state law is 10 years each.

The verdict brings to a close a case that has particularly enraged those who lived through a time when such crimes were more common here.

The Mimses' lawyer called Dwight's account a child's lie that got out of hand, that grew and grew until there was no backing out. But many, like Mary Cooper, a 48-year-old teacher who was a spectator, believed him from the start, and it broke her heart.

``A child, treated that way?'' she said, as she walked, satisfied, out of the courtroom. ``I feel justice has been done.''

The Mimses and their lawyer maintained throughout the trial that not even part of the boy's story was true. The prosecutors argued that the boy had been assaulted because two children, the Mimses' son and a 14-year-old niece, had told Mims - perhaps as a joke - that Dwight was stealing from his pickup. Mims wanted to scare the child and teach him a lesson, Grant said.

Ernest Finney, the defense attorney, argued that the boy's story made no sense, saying he had often played at the Mimses' house without anything like this ever happening.

``The good Lord knows, I ain't touched him,'' said Mims, raising his right hand and aiming his index finger heavenward in testimony this week in the Clarendon County Courthouse.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 23, 1996
Words:522
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