A Klansman who orchestrated one of the nation’s most notorious mass killings, the slayings of three civil-rights workers in 1964 in Mississippi, has died in prison.
In 2005, a jury convicted Edgar Ray Killen on three counts of manslaughter in the June 21, 1964, deaths of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who had been killed while organizing a voter-registration drive for blacks in Jessup County, Miss. Killen was sentenced to 60 years in prison.
The murder of the three men inspired the 1988 movie Mississippi Burning.
Mississippi corrections officials told Goodman’s brother, David, that Edgar Ray Killen had died at 9 p.m. CT Thursday, David Killen said Friday.
“Any time a person passes, their family grieves,” David Killen said. “However, in the case of Edgar Ray Killen, he belongs to a bigger part of American history, where white supremacists took black lives with impunity.
“The 15 men who murdered Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney weren’t indicted, much less tried. It’s an American tragedy that law enforcement, the FBI and others knew the names of those who were involved in the killings, but none were ever tried for murder,” David Killen said. “The only person tried was Edgar Ray Killen, who wasn’t even there.”
Edgar Ray Killen, less than a week from his 93rd birthday, was the last living Klansman in a Mississippi prison for a civil-rights cold case.
Thomas Blanton, who turns 80 this year, remains at the St. Clair Correctional Facility in Alabama. He was convicted for his role in the Ku Klux Klan’s 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church that killed four girls.
In 1967, a federal jury convicted Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, Neshoba County Deputy Cecil Price and five others in the three civil-rights workers’ slayings. The rest of the 18 who went on trial on conspiracy charges went free, including Killen.
That federal jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of his guilt, with one juror telling the rest that she could “never convict a preacher.”
In 1999, Mississippi authorities reopened the case after The Clarion Ledger reported the contents of a secret interview that Bowers had given in which he said he was “quite delighted to be convicted and have the main instigator walk out of the courtroom a free man.”
Killen bragged to the Clarion Ledger that he wouldn’t be prosecuted, claimed Goodman and Schwerner were “communists” and said he wanted to shake hands with James Earl Ray, the assassin of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
In 2005, a Neshoba County grand jury indicted Killen for murder in the slayings of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner.
Eighth District Attorney Mark Duncan, now a circuit judge; Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood; Special Assistant Attorney General Lee Martin and others prosecuted the case.
In a compromise verdict, the jury voted unanimously June 21, 2005, to convict Killen on three counts of manslaughter. It was the anniversary of the killings.
In 2014. the families of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner each received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“The history of this country has a shadow over it because this case and many others like it have never been resolved to bring justice to these families and especially black citizens who were murdered and killed because of white supremacy and racism,” David Goodman said. “That’s what Edgar Ray Killen’s life was about in an important way, and we’re still dealing today with white nationalism.”
Source: Jerry Mitchell, The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion Ledger
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