Edgar Ray Killen (January 17, 1925 – January 11, 2018) was a Ku Klux Klan organizer who planned and directed the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, three civil rights activists participating in the Freedom Summer of 1964. More on the topic: https://www.amazon.com/gp/search?ie=UTF8&tag=tra0c7-20&linkCode=ur2&linkId=72cf442f293aa9c43f5d1803934cd95a&camp=1789&creative=9325&index=books&keywords=edgar%20killen He was found guilty in state court of three counts of manslaughter on June 21, 2005, the forty-first anniversary of the crime, and sentenced to 60 years in prison. He appealed the verdict, but the sentence was upheld on April 12, 2007, by the Supreme Court of Mississippi. He died in prison on January 11, 2018, six days before his 93rd birthday.
Edgar Ray Killen was born in Philadelphia, Mississippi, as the oldest of eight children to Lonie Ray Killen (1901–1992) and Jetta Killen (née Hitt; 1903–1983). Killen was a sawmill operator and a part-time minister. He was a kleagle, or klavern recruiter and organizer, for the Neshoba and Lauderdale County chapters of the Ku Klux Klan.
During the “Freedom Summer” of 1964, James Chaney, 21, a young black man from Meridian, Mississippi and Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24, two Jewish men from New York, were murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Killen, along with Cecil Price, then deputy sheriff of Neshoba County, was found to have assembled a group of armed men who conspired against, pursued, and killed the three civil rights workers. Samuel Bowers, who served as the Grand Wizard of the local White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and had ordered the murders to take place, acknowledged that Killen was “the main instigator”.
At the time of the murders, the state of Mississippi made little effort to prosecute the guilty parties. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), under pro-civil-rights President Lyndon B. Johnson and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, conducted a vigorous investigation. A federal prosecutor, John Doar, circumventing dismissals by federal judges, convened a grand jury in December 1964. In November 1965 Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall appeared before the Supreme Court to defend the federal government’s authority in bringing charges. Eighteen men, including Killen, were arrested and charged with conspiracy to violate the victims’ civil rights in United States v. Price.
The trial, which began in 1966 at the federal courthouse of Meridian before an all-white jury, convicted seven conspirators, including the deputy sheriff, and acquitted eight others. It was the first time a white jury convicted a white official of civil rights killings. For three men, including Killen, the trial ended in a hung jury, with the jurors deadlocked 11–1 in favor of conviction. The lone holdout said that she could not convict a preacher. The prosecution decided not to retry Killen and he was released. None of the men found guilty would serve more than six years in prison.
More than 20 years later, Jerry Mitchell, an award-winning investigative reporter for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, wrote extensively about the case for six years. Mitchell helped to secure convictions in other high-profile Civil Rights Era murder cases, including the assassination of Medgar Evers, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, and the murder of Vernon Dahmer. Mitchell assembled new evidence regarding the murders of the three civil rights workers. He also located new witnesses and pressured the state to take action. Assisting Mitchell were high school teacher Barry Bradford and a team of three students from Illinois.
The students persuaded Killen to do his only taped interview (to that point) about the murders. That tape showed Killen clinging to his segregationist views and competent and aware. The student-teacher team found more potential witnesses, created a website, lobbied the United States Congress, and focused national media attention on reopening the case. Carolyn Goodman, the mother of one of the victims, called them “super heroes”.
The film Mississippi Burning is related to the murders.
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