- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2005

PHILADELPHIA, Miss. (AP) — An 80-year-old former Ku Klux Klansman was convicted of manslaughter yesterday in the slayings more than four decades ago of three civil rights workers that helped spur passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The jury of nine whites and three blacks reached the verdict on its second day of deliberations, rejecting murder charges against Edgar Ray Killen, but also turning aside defense claims that he wasn’t involved at all.

Killen showed no emotion as the verdicts were read. He was comforted by his wife as he sat in his wheelchair, wearing an oxygen tube. He was immediately taken into custody by the sheriff, and Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon set sentencing for tomorrow.

Civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were ambushed June 21, 1964. Their bodies were found 44 days later, buried in an earthen dam. They had been beaten and shot.

The case inspired the 1988 movie “Mississippi Burning.”

Cheers could be heard outside the two-story, red brick courthouse after the verdicts were announced. Passers-by patted Mr. Chaney’s brother, Ben, on the back and one woman slowed her vehicle and yelled, “Hey, Mr. Chaney, all right!”

Mr. Schwerner’s widow, Rita Schwerner Bender, praised the verdict, calling it “a day of great importance to all of us.”

Killen’s relatives left the courtroom without speaking to reporters.

Outside the courthouse, defense lawyer James McIntyre said he will file an appeal, noting that he had objected to giving the jurors the manslaughter option.

Prosecutors had asked the jury to send a message to the rest of the world that Mississippi has changed and is committed to bringing to justice those who killed to preserve segregation in the 1960s. They said the evidence was clear that Killen organized the attack on the three victims.

Killen’s attorneys conceded he was in the Klan, but said that did not make him guilty. They pointed out that prosecutors offered no witnesses or evidence that put Killen at the scene of the crime. Killen did not take the stand, but has long claimed that he was at a wake at a funeral home when the victims were killed.

While Killen was indicted on murder charges, which could carry a life sentence, prosecutors asked the judge to allow the jury to consider the lesser charge of manslaughter, which has a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each of the three manslaughter counts.

Attorney General Jim Hood said earlier that with a murder charge, prosecutors had to prove intent to kill. With a manslaughter charge, he said, prosecutors had to prove only that a victim died while another crime was being committed.

“There’s justice for all in Mississippi,” Mr. Hood said after the verdicts were announced.

Killen, a part-time preacher and sawmill operator, was tried in 1967 on federal charges of violating the victims’ civil rights. But the all-white jury deadlocked, with one juror saying she could not convict a preacher. Seven others were convicted, but none served more than six years.

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