- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005

PHILADELPHIA, Miss. (AP) — Saying “each life has value,” a judge yesterday sentenced former Ku Klux Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen to the maximum 60 years in prison for masterminding the 1964 slayings of three civil rights workers.

The frail, 80-year-old Killen, sitting in a wheelchair and dressed in a yellow jail jumpsuit, sat impassively and stared straight ahead as Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon sentenced him to 20-year terms for each of three counts of manslaughter. Judge Gordon said the terms will run consecutively.

The sentence brings to a close one of the most horrifying chapters in the movement for racial equality in the United States.

The three men whom Killen was convicted of killing — black Mississippian James Chaney and white New Yorkers Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman — were beaten and shot by a gang of Klansmen, and their bodies were buried in an earthen dam. The killings shocked the nation, and the disappearances helped spur passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964; the FBI’s search for evidence in the case was dramatized in the 1988 movie “Mississippi Burning.”

Killen was convicted Tuesday, 41 years to the day after the three men were killed.

Yesterday, Killen was brought before Judge Gordon in the wheelchair he has occupied since a March logging accident that broke both his legs. Absent was the oxygen tube that he had attached to his nose during the reading of the verdict.

The judge said the law makes no distinction based on the defendant’s age at the time of sentencing.

“I have to pass on a sentence to a person who is 80 years old. A person who has suffered a serious injury,” Judge Gordon said. “There are those of you in the courtroom that would say a sentence of 10 years would be a life sentence.”

He added: “I heard the evidence of this case. … Each life has value. Each life is equally as valuable as the other life, and I have taken that into consideration. The three lives should absolutely be respected and treated equally.”

After the sentencing, Killen’s wife, Betty Jo, pushed past security to give her husband three kisses on the cheek before he was wheeled from the courtroom. Killen was whisked away from the courthouse in a sheriff’s vehicle.

Defense attorney James McIntyre said Killen’s last words as he was wheeled away were: “I’ll see you.”

Killen will be taken to state prison, where his status will be evaluated and he will be held in solitary confinement, Attorney General Jim Hood said. Mr. Hood said Killen has expressed no remorse.

Killen, a sawmill operator and part-time Baptist minister, has been held in Neshoba County Jail since his conviction.

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