Killen trial to proceed
Friday, June 10, 2005 1:00 PM
The June 13 trial of reputed Ku Klux Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen, accused in one of the most notorious crimes of the civil rights era, will proceed as scheduled, a Circuit Court judge ruled Wednesday morning.
Killen, 80, will be present in the courtroom for jury selection, his attorney confirmed.
He is accused in the June 21, 1964, slayings of James Chaney, 21, Michael Schwerner, 24, and Andrew Goodman, 20, who were in Mississippi registering blacks to vote.
Killen's attorneys had sought a continuation in the trial, citing health problems stemming from a logging accident earlier this year which they say could hinder his ability to sit through a lengthy trial.
Judge Marcus Gordon ruled against the motion but said the court would provide Killen with a bed and private room in the courthouse where he could relax during breaks in the trial.
Gordon also ordered the clerk to check into the availability of a registered nurse to attend to any of Killen's immediate needs during proceedings.
He recommended that the defense check into renting a medical chair that would be more comfortable for him than a wheelchair.
A Walnut Grove physician, who had treated Killen before and after his March logging accident, was the only witness to testify during the hearing.
Dr. William Douglas Perry told the court that he treated Killen after he was transferred from the University Medical Center to Laird Hospital in Union.
Perry said Killen suffered from osteoarthritis like many elderly people and was having mild to moderate pain when he last saw him in his office.
Killen was confined to a wheelchair at that time, he said.
Perry told the court that Killen's orthopedic surgeon had advised him that he could sit for two hours at a time before needing to move around and stretch, possibly horizontally in a bed.
On cross examination by District Attorney Mark Duncan, Perry said he didn't see anything in the courtroom setting that would prevent the court from accommodating Killen's needs.
Defense attorney James McIntyre argued that Killen should not be put through the rigors of a two or week trial while Duncan said the court could provide him with the needed accommodations.
Meanwhile, credentials for nearly 150 media representatives have been issued so far for the June 13 case. Police plan on closing some side streets near the courthouse to accommodate satellite trucks and protesters.
Beacon and Main streets, the two main one-way arteries through town, will be one-laned around the courthouse.
Court TV will provide gavel to gavel coverage of the trial and the local Northland Cable is planning to show a live video feed on a local access channel.
More than 300 potential jurors were summoned and will report Monday and Tuesday. Once the jury is selected they will be sequestered.
Public seating has been set aside in the courtroom on a first-come, first-served basis.
Opening arguments could begin as early as Wednesday and the trial could continue through the weekend, some have speculated.
So far seven witnesses are scheduled to be called by the prosecution, including three men convicted in a 1967 federal conspiracy trial involving the civil rights workers.
Among those witnesses scheduled are: Billy Wayne Posey, Jimmie Snowden and Jimmy Arledge, who all three served time in federal prison for violating the civil rights of the three men. Former Meridian police officer Joseph (Mike) Hatcher is also scheduled to testify.
During the 1967 trial, Hatcher testified that he was a member of the Klan and had attended a meeting of the organization in Neshoba County.
According to the 1967 court transcripts, Hatcher testified that Killen told him "that the three had been taken care of and the bodies were buried south of Philadelphia beyond the fairgrounds in an earthen dam and they had burned the car."
District Attorney Mark Duncan and Attorney General Jim Hood will prosecute the case.
The defense attorneys are Mitch Moran of Carthage and James McIntyre of Jackson, who defended then Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey in the 1967 federal trial in which he was acquitted.
Longtime Circuit Court Judge Marcus Gordon will preside.
It will be the first time the state has brought charges in the case.
Killen and 17 others were charged with depriving the three civil rights workers of their constitutional rights.
Seven were found guilty and eight were acquitted.
The jury could not reach a verdict on three defendants including Killen, voting 11-1 to convict him.
A lone woman juror said she could not convict a preacher.
Killen has pastored rural Baptist churches and been in the sawmill business most of his life.
Killen was indicted by a Neshoba County grand jury on Jan. 6, 2005.
His trial was first set for March 28 and later postponed to April 18 to give lawyers time to prepare a questionnaire for potential jurors and to give the defense time to examine previously undisclosed records from a tip line.
The trial was postponed until June 13 after Killen was injured in a logging accident on March 10.
He underwent surgery on his legs and is presently confined to a wheelchair, his attorneys have said.
On May 23, Gordon denied a defense motion to have the murder charges dropped on the basis of selective prosecution.
Following that hearing, Moran told members of the press that Killen had been having some discomforts and was not able to sit in any one position for extended periods.
The trio disappeared after being jailed on trumped up speeding charges as they returned from investigating a church burning in the Longdale community of Neshoba County.
They were released from the county jail after dark, ambushed in a 13-mile high-speed chase by a group of men that included law enforcement and shot at point-blank range on a dirt road.
They were loaded into other vehicles and taken to a pre-selected site on Road 515 and shot at point-blank range.
The gunmen were Wayne Roberts and James Edward Jordan of the Meridian Klan. Both are deceased.
Their bodies were buried in an earthen dam off Mississippi 21 south and discovered 44 days later after one of the most extensive searches ever by the FBI.
They were investigating the burning of the Mt. Zion Methodist Church off of Mississippi 16 east.
The night the church was burned three parishioners were beaten, some severely. The murders of three men were part of a plot hatched by the Lauderdale County unit of the Ku Klux Klan and carried out with the help of members of the Neshoba County unit.
The men were part of a broader national movement that hoped to begin a voter registration drive in this area, part of the Mississippi Summer Project, what became known as Freedom Summer.
Chaney, a plasterer, had grown up in Meridian and even as a young student had been interested in civil rights work.
Schwerner, a Jewish New Yorker, came to Meridian to set up a COFO office. They were later joined by Goodman, an anthropology major from Queens College in New York who had just arrived in Mississippi as a Freedom Summer volunteer.
Duncan said earlier that the prosecution would rely heavily on testimony from Killen's 1967 federal trial.
Parts of the transcripts are expected to be read in court with someone playing the role of the person asking the questions and another the role of the witness.