Neshoba County faced one of its greatest challenges with the triple murder trial of Edgar Ray Killen, but the character of the good and decent people here won the day.

Many have called the conviction monumental, a watershed in Mississippi civil rights history, the trial of the century. Others have asked, “why stir it up,” saying it was pointless to open old wounds that had long since healed over.

The trial, which ended Tuesday with Killen’s conviction on three counts of felony manslaughter, did stoke old wounds, but the verdict was a great day for Mississippi, for Philadelphia, Neshoba County and for justice.

Murder is murder and for good and obvious reasons there is no statute of limitations on murder.

Prosecutors proved that Killen masterminded the execution of the three young men who had come to Mississippi to help blacks register to vote.

The crime four decades ago branded Philadelphia as a hotbed of racism, but the jury this week has helped us take a first and necessary step in excising an old evil that a majority of the people here never condoned in the first place.

It can be said that justice reigns in Neshoba County today, not the lawlessness of the 1960s under the tyranny of Edgar Ray Killen and his thugs who for 40 years have defined not only Neshoba County but the state of Mississippi.

We pronounce a new dawn in Mississippi, one in which the chains of cynicism and racism have been broken and we are free, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last!

Neshoba County District Attorney Mark Duncan said after the verdict that our county has begun to rewrite that virulently racist chapter of our history, which received a renewal of national attention through the 1988 movie “Mississippi Burning.”

“I’m one of you all, too. For too long, we’ve borne the burden of what was done here by a handful of people 41 years ago,” Duncan said. “We’ve shown the rest of the world the true character of the people of Neshoba County.”

Georgia Graham, 41, a lifelong resident of Philadelphia, tempered her satisfaction with caution. Watching as Killen was wheeled into a sheriff’s car after the verdict, she echoed the reaction of many other black townspeople here, The New York Times reported.

“It’s a step forward,” Graham said. “But there still are a lot of people who are guilty of this. This is letting them know they’ve been put on notice.”

Finally holding Edgar Ray Killen accountable for this horrendous crime is a powerful and necessary part of acknowledging and correcting the past.

To ignore evil is a complicit sin and for 40 years we have been in denial.

The jury had a difficult task. The evidence was weak, but the state met its burden of proof. As weak as the prosecution was — mainly because of the passage of time — the defense was even weaker.

We are pleased and yet disappointed with manslaughter, but Edgar Ray Killen deserves the maximum sentence and no less.