Klansman who orchestrated 'Mississippi Burning' killings dies in prison

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Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood says he and the FBI have closed their investigation into the Ku Klux Klan's 1964 killings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.

Edgar Ray Killen, shown Jan. 7, 2005, at the Neshoba County Courthouse in Philadelphia, Miss.,was convicted in 2005 of three counts of manslaughter in the slayings of civil-rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andy Goodman in 1964.(Photo: Roger Solis, AP)

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A Klansman who orchestrated one of the nation’s most notorious mass killings, the slayings of in Mississippi, has died in prison.

In 2005, a jury convicted Edgar Ray Killen on three counts of manslaughter in the June 21, 1964, deaths of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who had been killed while organizing a voter-registration drive for blacks in Jessup County, Miss. Killen was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

The murder of the three men inspired the 1988 movie Mississippi Burning.

Mississippi corrections officials told Goodman’s brother, David, that Edgar Ray Killen had died at 9 p.m. CT Thursday, David Killen said Friday.

“Any time a person passes, their family grieves,” David Killen said. “However, in the case of Edgar Ray Killen, he belongs to a bigger part of American history, where white supremacists took black lives with impunity.

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“The 15 men who murdered Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney weren’t indicted, much less tried. It’s an American tragedy that law enforcement, the FBI and others knew the names of those who were involved in the killings, but none were ever tried for murder,” David Killen said. “The only person tried was Edgar Ray Killen, who wasn’t even there.”

Edgar Ray Killen, less than a week from his 93rd birthday, was the last living Klansman in a Mississippi prison for a civil-rights cold case.

“The 15 men who murdered (Andrew) Goodman, (Michael) Schwerner and (James) Chaney weren’t indicted, much less tried. It’s an American tragedy.”

David Killen, Collinsville, Miss.

Thomas Blanton, who turns 80 this year, remains at the St. Clair Correctional Facility in Alabama. He was convicted for his role in the Ku Klux Klan’s 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church that killed four girls.

In 1967, a federal jury convicted Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, Neshoba County Deputy Cecil Price and five others in the three civil-rights workers‘ slayings. The rest of the 18 who went on trial on conspiracy charges went free, including Killen.

That federal jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of his guilt, with one juror telling the rest that she could “never convict a preacher.”

In 1999, Mississippi authorities reopened the case after The Clarion Ledger reported the contents of a secret interview that Bowers had given in which he said he was “quite delighted to be convicted and have the main instigator walk out of the courtroom a free man.”

Killen bragged to the Clarion Ledger that he wouldn’t be prosecuted, claimed Goodman and Schwerner were “communists” and said he wanted to shake hands with James Earl Ray, the assassin of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 2005, a Neshoba County grand jury indicted Killen for murder in the slayings of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner.

Eighth District Attorney Mark Duncan, now a circuit judge; Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood; Special Assistant Attorney General Lee Martin and others prosecuted the case.

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In a compromise verdict, the jury voted unanimously June 21, 2005, to convict Killen on three counts of manslaughter. It was the anniversary of the killings.

In 2014. the families of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner each received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“The history of this country has a shadow over it because this case and many others like it have never been resolved to bring justice to these families and especially black citizens who were murdered and killed because of white supremacy and racism,” David Goodman said. “That’s what Edgar Ray Killen’s life was about in an important way, and we’re still dealing today with white nationalism.”

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FILE – In this Dec. 4, 1964 file photo civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King displays pictures of three civil rights workers, who were slain in Mississippi the summer before, from left Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman, at a news conference in New York, where he commended the FBI for its arrests in Mississippi in connection with the slayings. As the burgeoning civil rights movement gathered force in the 1960s, demonstrators were brutalized and killed, sometimes at the hands of law officers. Many slayings remain unsolved. But in some cases where local authorities failed to go after the attackers or all-white juries refused to convict, the federal government moved in with civil rights charges. (AP Photo/JL, File)  JL, AP On June 29, 1964, the FBI began distributing these pictures of civil rights workers, from left, Michael Schwerner, 24, of New York, James Chaney, 21, from Mississippi, and Andrew Goodman, 20, of New York, who disappeared near Philadelphia, Miss., June 21, 1964. The three civil rights workers, part of the “Freedom Summer” program, were abducted, killed and buried in an earthen dam in rural Neshoba County. (AP Photo/FBI)  Anonymous, AP Federal and state investigators probe the swampy area near Philadelphia, Miss., where the burned station wagon of the missing civil rights trio was found June 23, 1964. The civil rights workers, Michael Schwerner, 24, Andrew Goodman, 21, both white and James Chaney, 21, black, were last seen in Philadelphia, Miss., Sunday night, June 21, 1964. (AP Photo)  AP FILE – In this Oct. 19, 1967 file photo, Neshoba County Sheriff Deputy Cecil Price holds a copy of the Meridian Star newspaper with Edgar Ray Killen as they await their verdicts in the murder trial of three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Meridian, Miss. Of the 18 defendants, Price was convicted on conspiracy charges along with six other defendants. Killen walked out of federal court in 1967 because the jury could not reach a verdict. But in 2005, the former Ku Klux Klansman and one-time Baptist preacher was convicted of manslaughter in the 1964 slayings. (AP Photo/Jack Thornell, File)  Jack Thornell, ASSOCIATED PRESS The burned station wagon of three missing civil rights workers – Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney is found in a swampy area near Philadelphia, Miss., June 24, 1964. Only a shell remains. The tires, windows, interior and exterior are completely burned. Two white and a black civil rights worker were arrested in the station wagon Sunday. They have been unaccounted for since that time. (AP Photo/Jack Thornell)  JACK THORNELL, AP Mrs. Caroline Goodman, center, with Mrs. Fannie Chaney, mother of James E. Chaney, slain civil rights worker, left, and Mrs. Nathan Schwerner, mother of slain Michael Schwerner, are escorted from Ethical Culture Society Hall August 9, 1964, after attending funeral services for her son Andrew Goodman, in New York. Man at right is unidentified. More than 1,200 mourners attended services for Goodman. About 450 persons were outside the hall behind police lines, and another 175 were seated in the hall‘s basement. (AP Photo)  AP Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence A. Rainey, right, and deputy Cecil Price, center, pass a Meridian policeman en route to court on the third day of their conspiracy trial in the slaying of three civil rights workers in Meridian, Miss., Oct. 11, 1967. At left is Richard Andrew Willis, another of 18 people charged under an 1870 federal law of conspiring to deprive Freedom Summer activists Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney of their civil rights. (AP Photo/Jack Thornell)  JACK THORNELL, ASSOCIATED PRESS Investigators locked up the charred station wagon of a missing civil rights trio, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, after it was found in a swampy area near Philadelphia, Miss., June 6, 1964. Three civil rights workers, two white and one black, have been missing since Sunday night. They were last seen as they drove this vehicle from Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Jack Thornell)  JACK THORNELL, AP J.R. “Bud” and Beatrice Cole show the memorial marker in Neshoba County, Miss., January 6, 1989, to James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, civil rights workers murdered in 1964. They are flanked by the Mt. Zion Methodist Church, burned by the Ku Klux Klan five days before the murders. The night of the burning, Klansmen beat Cole as he left a meeting at the church, suspected of being a meeting place for civil rights workers. (AP Photo/Strat Douthat)  STRAT DOUTHAT, ASSOCIATED PRESS A memorial for three civil rights workers, who were killed in 1964 sits in front of Mt. Zion Methodist Church, near Philadelphia, Miss., Sunday, June 19, 2005. Memorial services for James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were held Sunday at the church. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)  DANNY JOHNSTON, ASSOCIATED PRESS A historic marker outside Mt. Zion Church in rural Neshoba County, shown Wednesday, June 17, 1999, briefly tells of the 1964 deaths of three civil rights workers, Mickey Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, who were killed June 21, 1964, following the burning of the church, located, just outside Philadelphia, Miss. The facility was rebuilt in 1965. (AP Photo/Rogelio Solis)  ROGELIO SOLIS, ASSOCIATED PRESS Escorted by Neshoba County Sheriff‘s Department deputy Grant Myers, left, reputed former Klansman Edgar Ray Killen, right, charged with the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers, walks into court, at the Neshoba County Courthouse in Philadelphia, Miss., Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2005. A March 28 trial date and a $250,000 bond were ordered for Killen, charged with the 1964 murders of James Chaney, a 21-year-old black Mississippian, and two white New Yorkers, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24. (AP Photo/Neshoba Democrat, Kyle Carter, Pool)  KYLE CARTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE – In this June 15, 2014 file photograph, flowers top the memorial marker for Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, civil rights workers who were killed in the “Mississippi Burning” case of 1964, outside the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Miss., following a commemorative service in their honor. The men are going to be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, but the honor is not sitting well with some of their relatives. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)  Rogelio V. Solis, AP

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