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Thursday, January 06, 2005

"The Past Is Not Dead. It's Not Even Past" 

Courtesy of our esteemed colleague Xan at Corrente: In Neshoba County, Mississippi, a grand jury has convened to hear evidence in a murder case, and will shortly decide whether to return indictments. You may recognize the names of the victims -- if you happen to be a student of American history:
For the first time, a state grand jury is having the opportunity to consider murder charges in the June 21, 1964, killings of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney.

Eight of those accused in the case are still alive. Authorities have said reported Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen — identified in testimony in a 1967 federal conspiracy trial as having coordinated the killings — is the prime target. Killen has denied any involvement in the killings . . . .

In 1999, the attorney general's office reopened the case after The Clarion-Ledger published excerpts from a secret interview given by one-time Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, who headed the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the nation's most violent white supremacist organization in the 1960s.

In that interview, Bowers — now serving a life sentence in a Mississippi prison for ordering the 1966 firebombing in Hattiesburg that killed Vernon Dahmer Sr. — admitted he thwarted justice in the trio's killings.

Testimony in the 1967 federal conspiracy trial identified Killen, also called "Preacher," as the one who got the orders from Bowers to kill Schwerner. Testimony also showed Killen coordinated the Klansmen's activities the night the three workers were kidnapped and killed.

Besides Arledge, seven of the 18 men tried in 1967 on conspiracy charges still are still alive: Killen, Bowers, Pete Harris, Jimmy Snowden, Billy Wayne Posey, Richard Willis and Olen Burrage.

The all-white jury convicted seven, including Bowers, Arledge, Snowden and Posey; acquitted eight, including Harris, Willis and Burrage; and deadlocked on Killen and two others, leading to their mistrials.

Jurors say they deadlocked 11-1 in favor of Killen's guilt when a lone holdout told them she could never convict a preacher.

In his interview, Bowers said he didn't mind going to prison on federal conspiracy charges because a fellow Klansman got away with murder. "I was quite delighted to be convicted and have the main instigator of the entire affair walk out of the courtroom a free man," he said, alluding to Killen, now 79.
UPDATE (via Zemblan patriot J.M.): The AP is reporting that 79-year-old Edgar Ray Killen has just been arrested at his home in Philadelphia, Mississippi, on multiple charges of murder.

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