Edgar Ray Killen, convicted in 1964 civil rights slayings, dies in prison

Edgar Ray Killen, convicted in 1964 civil rights slayings, dies in prison
Killen was convicted of the murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 2005. (Photo source: FBI/State of Mississippi Attorney General’s Office via Getty Images)
Killen was convicted of the murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 2005. (Photo source: FBI/State of Mississippi Attorney General’s Office via Getty Images)

PARCHMAN, MS (WLOX/AP) - The man convicted for his involvement in the deaths of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964 has died in prison.

Edgar Ray Killen, who would have turned 93 on Jan. 17, was pronounced dead Thursday at the hospital at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at 9 p.m.

Killen was serving a total of 60 years for manslaughter for the June 21, 1964, deaths of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County.

Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were three civil rights activists who were working with the Freedom Summer campaign attempting to register African Americans to vote in Mississippi in 1964. The three were leaving the site of a black church burning investigation outside of Philadelphia, MS when they were stopped and accused of speeding. All three were taken to the Neshoba County Jail and held for hours.

Witness testimony in the Killen trials accused Killen, along with the then deputy sheriff of Neshoba County, of gathering "carloads" of Klansmen to "intercept the three men upon their release," murder them, then "arrange for a bulldozer to hide the bodies."

Killen's first trial in 1967 ended in a mistrial. The jury was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of conviction. After, the prosecution's decision not to retry Killen, he was released.

He was retried 38 years later after the state reopened the murder investigations, and was convicted on June 21, 2005.

"In the 2005 trial, Attorney General Jim Hood acknowledged that Killen did not shoot the men himself, but said Killen's role as organizer made him just as guilty as those who fired the guns."

He was sentenced June 23, 2005 to three consecutive 20-year sentences. WLOX covered his 2005 arrest here.

The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld his convictions on April 12, 2007.

Biloxi NAACP President James Crowell said in a separate interview, 'he was 14-years-old when three civil rights workers were brutally murdered, and 40 years later he's proud justice is being served' when asked his reaction to Killen's conviction.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Killen remained silent about the three murders.

"He said he remains a segregationist who does not believe in race equality but contends he bears no ill toward blacks."

Killen wrote a letter on March 3, 2013 which stated, "That is not where I am coming from after 50 years of silence. I have never discussed the 1964 case with anyone- an attorney, the FBI, local law nor friend- and those who say so are lying."

The cause and manner of death are pending an autopsy. However, no foul play is suspected.

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