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Klansman gets 60 years for role in 1964 killings
 
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 69/No. 26July 11, 2005

 

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lead article
Klansman gets 60 years for role in 1964 killings
 
Getty Images/Marianne Todd
Edgar Ray Killen, 80, is escorted into the courthouse June 23 before being sentenced to 60 years for his involvement in the 1964 racist murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman near Philadelphia, Mississippi.

BY SUSAN LAMONT  
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama—“The whole world knows he should have been convicted of first-degree murder, but at least he was convicted, ” said Eddie Carthan, former mayor of Tchula, Mississippi, in a June 24 interview. He was commenting on the June 21 manslaughter conviction of 80-year-old Edgar Ray Killen for the 1964 slayings of three young civil rights workers—James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman—near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Killen was sentenced on June 23 to 60 years in prison.

Carthan, a long-time civil rights activist in the Mississippi Delta area, is currently minister of the Good Samaritan Ecumenical Church.

Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman were in Mississippi as part of the 1964 Freedom Summer, in which hundreds of volunteers came to the state to help register Blacks to vote. The volunteers, along with local Black residents, also set up Freedom Schools that summer for Black students. Carthan participated in the Freedom School in Mileston, near Tchula, and met Schwerner when he visited the school two weeks before his murder.

Carthan blamed the prosecution for the fact that murder convictions were not secured. “The prosecution didn’t do the very best job,” he said. Manslaughter is distinct from murder in that it does not involve malicious intent or premeditation. Dragging their feet for 41 years after the crime and pushing for milder punishment than what’s called for is part of the ongoing efforts by state and federal authorities to cover up their responsibilities for sanctioning racist terror in the 1960s.

“I don’t have any sympathy for Killen, even though he’s old,” said Joann Hogan, in an interview following Killen’s sentencing. Hogan, also a lifelong resident of Tchula, is a former leader of the Catfish Workers of America. “He should have been convicted of murder, because that’s what he did. And he’s shown no remorse. Instead, he acts like he’d do it again if he could.”

Killen, a leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Neshoba County in 1964, plans to appeal his conviction.

Ben Chaney, younger brother of James Chaney, has called on Mississippi authorities to pursue prosecution of the seven other suspects in the case who are still alive. While state prosecutors say the only two triggermen in the killings are dead, the Mississippi State forensic pathologist and others have said they believe there were more than two shooters, which could lead to further arrests. This would require exhumation and a new autopsy of James Chaney’s body, as was recently done in the case of Emmett Till. Fourteen-year-old Till was murdered in 1955 by racists in Money, Mississippi.

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