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Edgar Ray Killen
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    (January 17, 1925-January 11, 2018)
    Born in Philadelphia, Mississippi
    Sawmill operator and part-time minister
    Recruiter and organizer for the Neshoba and Lauderdale County chapters of the Ku Klux Klan
    Recruited a lynch mob that murdered civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner (June 21, 1964)
    Tried on federal charges of violating the victims’ civil rights (1967)
    Trial ended in a hung jury, 11-1 in favor of conviction
    Case re-opened four decades later
    Found guilty on three counts of manslaughter (June 21, 2005)
    Sentenced to 60 years in prison (20 for each conviction)
    Died in the Mississippi State Penitentiary
    He ordered the firebombing of the Mt. Zion Church to lure Schwerner (the Klan’s main target) to Neshoba County.
    He plotted the killing of the three civil rights workers down to arranging for a bulldozer to bury their bodies in an earthen dam.
    While denying being responsible for the murders, he said about the killers, ‘I’m not going to say they were wrong.’
    He avoided conviction at the civil rights trial due to one holdout who said she could ‘never convict a preacher.’
    He was a questioned by FBI agents after the assassination of <1968>Martin Luther King, Jr.<1968>; as the agents left, he asked if they had identified the assassin because ‘I just want to shake his hand.’
    He spent five months in prison after threatening a man who had spotted him and a woman leaving a motel together and informed the woman’s husband (1976).
    While appealing his manslaughter conviction, he was released on a $600,000 bond after testifying that he was permanently confined to a wheelchair.
    A month later, the bond was revoked and he was ordered back to prison after multiple witnesses testified to having seen him walking unaided.
    He claimed, ‘I’m probably the only sawmiller in the South who never whipped one of his black hands.’
    That holdout who refused to convict a preacher may have done him a disservice in the long run: none of the defendants convicted in the 1967 civil rights trial served longer than six years for the crime, while Killen eventually served twice as long.
    Local editor Jim Prince said after his manslaughter conviction, ‘This certainly sends a message, I think, to the criminals and to the thugs that justice reigns in Neshoba County, unlike 41 years ago.’

Credit: C. Fishel

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