Killen Trial: A Closer Look, Part 2

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Judge Marcus Gordon has spent 25 years on the bench and that experience should come in handy when the Edgar Ray Killen trial starts June 13.

Tough, but fair. That's how Judge Marcus Gordon is described by some who deal with him professionally on a regular basis. He will need all he has of both to handle what he says is the highest profile case in his, or Mississippi's, history.

When Gordon and Edgar Ray Killen met in the Neshoba County courtroom after Killen's indictment in the murders of three civil rights workers, it was not the first time.

The two encountered on another thirty years ago when Gordon was a district attorney and Killen was a part-time preacher accused of making death threats against another man in Newton County.

Despite Killen's pleas that it was not his voice on a tape that was part of the evidence, Gordon got the conviction and Killen spent four months behind bars.

But those who know Gordon well say any history the judge has with Killen won't be a part of this case.

"I've always been impressed with his fairness and unbiased conduct of trial," said Stanley Dearman, the former editor of the Neshoba Democrat newspaper.

But not everyone agrees with Dearman. A quick Google search of his name brings up more than a hundred references. People on the fringes of both sides have less than kind things to say about Gordon.

The white supremacist Nationalist organization has called him the self-proclaimed embodiment of communist agitators, and branded him the re-incarnation of Michael Schwerner, one of the three civil rights workers killed in 1964.

On the other side, the liberal website, Hungry Blues, questioned how badly Gordon wanted to try the case after he delayed it when Killen was hurt in a tree cutting accident. That kind of criticism doesn't seem to faze the judge.

"I have a job to do and I recognize the law, and in doing so I think sometimes people don't understand fairness," Gordon said.

Gordon runs a strict courtroom, quick to put down any kind of disruption. One lawyer whom he reprimanded accused him of having the judicial temperament of a barbarian, but most people who have worked with him say Gordon's toughness will be his greatest asset when the trial begins.

"He's a tough judge; he's going to run his court," said Sheriff Larry Myers. "And that's what I like about him being in charge of the court."

The toughness comes with experience. Gordon has now spent more than a quarter century on the bench, and Neshoba County NAACP president Leroy Clemons says he believes it has prepared him well.

"I've seen him in action throughout the years," Clemons said. "And if any man was made for a moment like this one, Judge Gordon is the man."

When the trial begins, Gordon's experience should come in handy. He'll have experienced lawyers on both sides trying to win.