- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2005

PHILADELPHIA, Miss. (AP) — The murder case against a former Klansman charged in the slayings of three civil rights workers went to the jury yesterday, after prosecutors made an impassioned plea for a conviction, saying the victims’ families have waited a long 41 years for someone to be brought to justice.

“Because the guilt of Edgar Ray Killen is so clear, there is only one question left,” prosecutor Mark Duncan said in closing arguments. “Is a Neshoba County jury going to tell the rest of the world that we are not going to let Edgar Ray Killen get away with murder anymore? Not one day more.”

The 12 jurors — nine white and three black — began deliberating whether to convict the 80-year-old Mr. Killen of murder after a weeklong trial. He could get life in prison.

The jury deliberated for about 2 hours before going home for the day without a verdict. The jury reported being deadlocked 6-6, but was told by the judge to return today to continue deliberations.

Defense attorney James McIntyre said that while events that occurred in 1964 were horrible, and he had sympathy for the families of the victims, “The burden of proof does not reflect any guilt whatsoever” on the part of Mr. Killen.

Mr. McIntyre acknowledged that Mr. Killen was once a Klan member, but added: “He’s not charged with being a member of the Klan. He’s charged with murder.” He then pointed out that no witnesses could put Mr. Killen at the scene of the crime. Mr. Killen did not take the stand.

“If you vote your conscience, you are voting not guilty,” he said. “There is a reasonable doubt.”

The prosecutor said that while there was no testimony putting the murder weapon in Mr. Killen’s hands, the evidence showed he was a Klan organizer and had played a personal role in preparations the day of the murders.

“He was in the Klan, and he was a leader,” Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said.

The trial has reopened one of the most notorious chapters of the civil rights era.

The victims — James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner — were helping register black voters when they were ambushed by a gang of Klansmen. They were beaten and shot, and their bodies were found 44 days later buried in an earthen dam.

FBI records and witnesses indicated Mr. Killen organized carloads of men who followed Mr. Chaney, a black man from Mississippi, and Mr. Schwerner and Mr. Goodman, white men from New York.

Their disappearance focused the nation’s attention on the Jim Crow code of segregation in the South and helped spur passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Mr. Killen was tried in 1967 along with several others on federal charges of violating the victims’ civil rights. The all-white jury deadlocked in Mr. Killen’s case, but seven others were convicted. None served more than six years.

The defense rested earlier yesterday after Mayor Harlan Majure, a former mayor, testified that his opinion of Mr. Killen would not change because of Mr. Killen’s Klan membership.

“As far as I know, it’s a peaceful organization,” Mr. Majure said.

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