Edgar Ray “Preacher” Killen was released from jail on $250,000 bond Wednesday afternoon after pleading not guilty last week to three counts of murder in connection with the deaths of three civil rights workers here four decades ago, one of the most infamous unresolved cases from America’s civil rights era.
The trial date was set for March 28 by Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon.
Killen, 79, of 10651 Road 515, Union, was represented at the bond hearing Wednesday by attorney W. Mitchell Moran of Carthage.
Killen is charged with the June 21, 1964, murders of James Chaney, 21, of Meridian and Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24, both New Yorkers.
District Attorney Mark Duncan did not object to the setting of bail. The bond was apparently posted by Killen and two others, although officials would not say until paperwork is completed on Thursday.
A special condition of the bond is that Killen check in with the Sheriff’s Office “each and every Monday” at 9 a.m., to notify authorities of his whereabouts.
The judge set other dates in connection with the upcoming trial.
Shortly after his arraignment on Friday the courthouse was cleared following a bomb threat that turned out to be a hoax.
Killen has long been the reputed Ku Klux Klan leader who masterminded the murders that provoked an outpouring of national support for the civil rights movement and put Philadelphia on the map.
Duncan said Friday was historic, but he was trying hard to treat the case as he would any other.
“It’s hard for me to say how I feel … I’m just a prosecutor. I learned a long time ago you don’t get too high or too low. I’m going to treat this like any other case. It’s fallen upon me to prosecute it and move on,” said Duncan, 45, a lifelong Neshoba County resident.
Killen was arrested on the triple murder charges the evening of Jan. 6.
Myers, along with his chief deputy, picked up Killen at his home in rural Neshoba County without incident at about 5:45 p.m., about an hour after a grand jury left the courthouse.
The grand jury returned 29 indictments that afternoon. No other civil rights related indictment are expected from this grand jury, but Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood didn’t rule out other indictments and urged citizens to come forward with information.
Hood was with the grand jury all day and witnesses connected with the case were seen at the Neshoba County Courthouse.
Grand jury proceedings are secret and the names of those indicted are not public record until individuals are served with warrants. Jurors can’t talk about the proceedings for six months.
Carolyn Goodman, the mother of Andrew Goodman, said Thursday night from her New York apartment, “This has been a long time coming, but it was definitely worth the wait. I knew in my heart this would happen eventually. It just had to be. I feel so relieved. My late husband Bobby Goodman, Andy’s father, said this day would come eventually because it had to.”
The grand jury convened at 9 a.m., in a small upstairs courtroom as constable Ken Spears and court bailiff Robert Sistrunk stood at the door.
Duncan, along with Hood and others, including the FBI, was with jurors until they recessed about 4:30 p.m.
During the day at least four potential witnesses sat in the hall just outside the grand jury room which is adjacent to the main courtroom.
Among them was Billy Wayne Posey, who was accompanied by his daughter, Lisa Hardy.
Posey was one of seven who was convicted in 1967 on federal conspiracy charges in connection with the murders. Killen went free after juror reportedly said she could not convict a preacher.
It had been reported that Killen, an ordained Baptist minister, was the prime target of the recent investigation.
During a mid-morning break with the grand jury on Thursday, Hood asked members of the state and local media standing nearby to go downstairs, saying that some of the witnesses “felt kind of intimidated” by the media.
“They don’t want to be talked to and the grand jury sure doesn’t,” Hood said. “This has landed in their laps and they are just dealing with it like we are.”
The state never brought murder charges in the killings. The men were part of the “Freedom Summer” program in Mississippi in which young civil rights workers organized voter education and registration campaigns.
The trio disappeared on Father’s Day when they went to investigate a fire at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in the Longdale community east of Philadelphia.
The church had been burned June 16 by the Klan.
The seven men convicted on the civil rights violations served prison terms ranging from three to 10 years, but none of the men served more than six years.
Killen, along with 18 others, was indicted in 1967 on federal conspiracy charges surrounding the murders.
Last May community leaders joined The Philadelphia Coalition, a 30-member, multi-ethnic group of citizens, in passing a resolution asking the county District Attorney, the state Attorney General and the U. S. Department of Justice to make every effort to seek justice in the case.
“We deplore the possibility that history will record that the state of Mississippi, and this community in particular, did not make a good faith effort to do its duty,” the Coalition’s resolution said.
The Coalition met privately with Hood and family members of one of the slain men in September.
David Goodman, the brother of Andrew Goodman, pleaded with Hood to prosecute the case, not only to give his family some amount of closure, but for Neshoba County and the state as well.
Goodman said sometimes you try a case even if you think you’re going to lose because you have to.
“It’s a matter of principle,” he said.
Goodman and his mother were also in Philadelphia in June for the 40th anniversary commemoration of the murders attended by Gov. Haley Barbour and others, including U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and other leaders of the civil rights movement.
Despite the horrific death of her son in Neshoba County four decades ago, Carolyn Goodman said she was still drawn back to the state.
Even before her most recent trip, friends warned her that Mississippi and specifically Neshoba County could be a dangerous place.
Mrs. Goodman quickly corrected them saying she had nothing but love for the state and county.
He husband died in 1969 of a heart attack.
Mrs. Goodman, 89, this week went on to say she was opposed to capital punishment should Killen be found guilty and favors instead life in prison.
She said her visit to Neshoba County in September with the Coalition and Hood was most meaningful.
“It was so wonderful to meet there with that group of lovely people. It was reassuring to see those Neshoba countians make statements in favor of justice,” she said. “I wish everyone could have seen what I saw there.”
In December a $100,000 reward was offered by a statewide religious organization for information leading to an arrest in the case.
Killen was 11 days shy of his 80th birthday when he was arrested.
He was brought into the Neshoba County Detention Center wearing blue jeans and a long-sleeve buttoned-up green shirt. He sat with his arms crossed and propped on the counter as he was booked.
Killen was booked in as 6-foot 190 pounds, bald with some gray hair and green eyes.
Myers, accompanied by chief deputy Wyatt Waddell and deputy Barry Truhett, arrived at Killen’s home in rural southwest Neshoba County to serve the arrest warrant.
Myers said Killen expressed very little surprise when told of the three-count indictment and stood calmly as officers secured his wrists in handcuffs and led him to the patrol car.
“There was not a whole lot of expression about him,” Myers said of the trip to the jail. “There was very little talking; nothing of enough consequence that I remember it any way.”
Upon arrival at the jail, Killen was processed and escorted to a small one-bed cell which is separated from the general population.
Florence Mars, a native Neshoba countian who wrote a book, “Witness in Philadelphia,” about the events surrounding the case and its effect on the community, said, “I’m glad that I have lived to see this day. I never thought it would happen.”