Edgar Ray Killen, former Baptist preacher, was found guilty in manslaughter of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman exactly 41 years ago in a notorious case that inspired the movie "Mississippi Burning," reports Associated Press.
The jury of nine whites and three blacks reached the verdict on their 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 was already tried in 1967 on federal charges of violating the victims' civil rights but the all-white jury deadlocked. Seven others were convicted, but none served more than six years, informs AP. According to Bloomberg, the attorney general had attempted this time to bring to trial all eight survivors of 18 men accused in 1967 of taking part in the killings. Of those still alive, Killen was the only one indicted. Killen's attorneys acknowledged for the first time during the trial that he had belonged to the Klan.
Killen, who faces up to 20 years in prison, had a tube in his nose, presumably to supply oxygen, as the verdict was read. He showed no visible emotion, sitting in his wheelchair, says Reuters. After the verdict was read, he was immediately taken into custody by the sheriff.
According to AP, Chaney, a black Mississippian, and Goodman and Schwerner, white New Yorkers, were in Neshoba County, Mississippi, to look into the torching of a black church and help register black voters during what was called Freedom Summer. As Bloomberg informs, the three victims had been arrested by police and released, then caught and killed by Klansmen. Chaney, 21, who was black, was beaten to death. Goodman, 20, and Schwerner, 24, both white, were shot. Their bodies were found after a 44-day search, buried in an earthen dam. Witnesses said on the day of the slayings, Killen rounded up carloads of Klansmen to intercept the three men in their station wagon. According to testimony, Killen told some Klansmen to get plastic gloves and helped arrange for a bulldozer to bury the bodies.
Outside the court there was a mood of celebration among the victims' relatives after the reading of the verdict, the BBC's reporter says. Killen's conviction will be seen by civil rights groups as evidence that Mississippi is now able to confront the worst elements of its racist past and look to the future, he adds. Ben Chaney, the brother of a victim, thanked the prosecutors but said that for the community, "I really feel that there is more to be done." "This is the beginning of the healing of Mississippi," said a Philadelphia resident, cited by BBC, "For once, the state of Mississippi says, 'We acknowledge the past.'"