Anniversary Post: Chaney, Goodman, Schwerner… and Killen

Edgar Ray KillenHas it been just ten years since homicidal bigot Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of planning the murders of the civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner on 21 June 1964 — exactly 41 years earlier? At the time of the murders, the state of Mississippi wasn’t too interested in prosecuting the murderers. But eventually, the federal government arrested and tried 18 men. There were 7 convictions, 8 acquittals, and three hung juries. Killen was one of the men in the last group. The jury was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of conviction. The lone holdout said she could not convict a preacher. Killen was a part-time minister. For some reason, he was not retried. It sounds like a slam dunk to me.

Jumping ahead a couple of decades, investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell looked into those killings. Working with an Illinois high school teacher and three of his students, they put together a case against Killen and publicized it — pressuring the state to reopen the case, which it did on 6 January 2005, with three charges of murder. On 21 June 2005, the jury found Mitchell guilty of three counts of manslaughter. He was given 20 years for each count.

He was 80 years old when he was convicted. And he turned 90 last January at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman. In general, I feel sorry for old people who did terrible things when they were younger. But it was clear that even before his incarceration, he was just as much a hate filled bigot as he had ever been. In fact, if he had grown as a human being, it is very possible that he wouldn’t have been tried and convicted. Regardless, I actually find it a irritating that he’s still alive. It doesn’t seem right.

But we mark this day 51 years ago when Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were murdered, and we celebrate this day 10 years ago when a very small amount of justice was done about it.

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