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On this date in 2005 a white-American alleged member of the Ku Klux Klan was arrested in connection with the 1964 shooting deaths of James Chaney, a 21-year-old Black Mississippian, and two white Jewish New Yorkers, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24 in Philadelphia, Miss.
Edgar Ray Killen, 79, was accused of the murder of the three young men in a case that outraged a nation. In 1967, the Justice Department tried Killen and 18 other men, many of them also Klan members, on federal civil rights violations. Seven were convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 10 years. Killen was freed after his trial ended in a hung jury.
With new witnesses and information, the case was reopened and Killen was arrested for three counts of murder on January 6, 2005. He was arraigned in Neshoba County Court on three counts of murder. He was freed on bond.
Black Congressman Rep. John Lewis who knew the three victims more than 40 years ago, said the arrest of a suspect was “a tremendous step down a very long road.” the arrest, along with the similar reopening of other civil-rights-era cases in recent years, would “have a redeeming effect on the very soul of this region of our country.”
The trial began on June 13, 2005, with Killen attending in a wheelchair. He was found guilty of manslaughter on June 21, 2005, 41 years to the day after the crime. The jury of nine whites and three Blacks rejected the charges of murder, but found him guilty of recruiting the mob that carried out the killings. He was sentenced on June 23, 2005 by Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon to the maximum sentence of 60 years in prison, 20 years for each count of manslaughter, to be served consecutively.
He was released from prison on a $600,000 appeal bond. He claimed that he could no longer use his right hand (he had to use his left hand to place his right one on the Bible during his swearing in) and that he was permanently confined to his wheelchair. Gordon, convinced by the testimony that Killen was neither a flight risk On September 3, however, the Clarion-Ledger reported that a deputy sheriff saw Killen walking around "with no problem."
At a hearing on September 9, several other deputies testified to seeing Killen driving in various locations. One deputy said that Killen shook hands with him using his right hand. Gordon revoked the bond and ordered Killen back to prison, saying that he believed Killen had committed a fraud against the court. On March 29, 2006, Killen was moved from his prison cell to a Jackson, Mississippi hospital to treat complications from the severe leg injury he sustained in a logging accident in 2005. Killen died on January 11, 2018 at Parchman Farm State Prison, MS.