Man convicted of killing 3 civil rights workers dies in jail

Edgar Ray Killen, a Nineteen Sixties Ku Klux Klan chief who was convicted many years later within the “Mississippi Burning” slayings of three civil rights staff, has died in jail on the age of ninety two, the state’s corrections division introduced.

Killen was serving three consecutive 20-yr phrases for manslaughter when he died at 9 p.m. Thursday contained in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. An post-mortem was pending, however no foul play was suspected, the assertion Friday stated.

His conviction got here forty one years to the day after James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, all of their 20s, have been ambushed and killed by Klansmen.

The three Freedom Summer time staff had been investigating the burning of a black church close to Philadelphia, Mississippi. A deputy sheriff in Philadelphia had arrested them on a visitors cost, then launched them after alerting a mob. Mississippi’s then-governor claimed their disappearance was a hoax, and segregationist Sen. Jim Eastland informed President Lyndon Johnson it was a “publicity stunt” earlier than their our bodies have been dug up.

The slayings shocked the nation, helped spur passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and have been dramatized within the 1988 film “Mississippi Burning.” The film title got here from the identify of the FBI investigation.

Killen, an element-time preacher and lumber mill operator, was eighty when a Neshoba County jury of 9 white individuals and three black individuals convicted him of three counts of manslaughter on June 21, 2005, regardless of his assertions that he was harmless. Prosecutors stated Killen masterminded the slayings, then went elsewhere so he would have an alibi.

Killen was the one individual ever to face state homicide expenses, and even then, it was the lesser cost of manslaughter that put him in state jail.

“It wasn’t even homicide. It was manslaughter,” David Goodman, Andrew’s youthful brother, noticed Friday.

“His life spanned a interval on this nation the place members of the Ku Klux Klan like him have been capable of consider that they had a proper to take different individuals’s lives, and that is a type of terrorism,” Goodman stated. “Many took black lives with impunity.”

Schwerner, a white New Yorker, moved to Mississippi in early 1964 to work on black voter registration and different tasks. Chaney was a black Mississippian who befriended him. Andrew Goodman, one other white New Yorker, underwent civil-rights coaching in Ohio and arrived in Mississippi a day earlier than he, Schwerner and Chaney have been killed. Investigators looking for their our bodies discovered our bodies of different black males who had been killed in Mississippi, together with two who have been brutalized earlier than being dumped within the Mississippi River.

Schwerner’s widow, Rita Schwerner Bender, stated on the day Killen was convicted that the slayings have been half of a bigger drawback of violence in Mississippi towards black individuals and others who challenged the segregationist established order.

“Preacher Killen didn’t act in a vacuum and the members of the Klan who have been members of the police division and the sheriff’s division and the freeway patrol did not act in a vacuum,” she stated.

Goodman stated Friday that Killen’s passing is a reminder that problems with racism and white nationalism stay at present. He pointed to the violent rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, for instance.

Killen would not say a lot concerning the killings throughout a 2014 interview with The Related Press contained in the penitentiary. He stated he remained a segregationist who didn’t consider in racial equality, however contended he harbored no ailing will towards black individuals. Killen stated he by no means had talked concerning the occasions that landed him behind bars, and by no means would.

Lengthy a suspect within the 1964 slayings, Killen had made a livelihood from farming, working his sawmill and preaching to a small congregation at Smyrna Baptist Church in Union, south of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Based on FBI information and courtroom transcripts from a 1967 federal conspiracy trial, Killen did a lot of the planning within the ambush killings of the civil rights staff. In line with testimony within the 2005 homicide trial, Killen served as a kleagle, or organizer, of the Klan in Neshoba County and helped arrange a klavern, or native Klan group, in a close-by county.

Nineteen males, together with Killen, have been indicted on federal costs within the 1967 case. Seven have been convicted of violating the victims’ civil rights. None served greater than six years.

Killen’s federal case ended with a hung jury after one juror stated she could not convict a preacher. Throughout his state trial in 2005, witnesses testified that on June 21, 1964, Killen went to Meridian to spherical up carloads of Klansmen to ambush Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, telling a number of the Klan members to convey plastic or rubber gloves. Witnesses stated Killen then went to a Philadelphia funeral house as an alibi whereas the deadly assault occurred.

The three our bodies have been discovered forty four days later, buried in a purple-clay dam in rural Neshoba County.

In February 2010, Killen sued the FBI, claiming the federal government used a mafia hit man to pistol-whip and intimidate witnesses for info within the case. The federal lawsuit sought tens of millions of dollars in damages and a declaration that his rights have been violated when the FBI allegedly used a gangster often known as “The Grim Reaper” in the course of the investigation. The lawsuit was later dismissed.

Within the AP interview, Killen repeated his rivalry that he was not a felony, however a political prisoner. He spoke of his many buddies, Sen. Eastland amongst them. Of 1 factor he was sure: “I might have beat that factor if I might had the psychological capacity.”

When she discovered of Killen’s dying, Chaney’s sister, the Rev. Julia Chaney Moss, stated her first thought was that “God has been type to him. And for that I’m grateful.”

“My final thought on that is simply that I solely want peace and blessings for all of the households in addition to the households of the perpetrators,” she stated.


Rebecca Santana reported from New Orleans. Related Press author Jack Elliott Jr. contributed to this report.

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