Killen Trial: A Closer Look, Part 1

By  | 

Click here to view this story

A little more than a year ago when a group called the Philadelphia Coalition issued a call for justice in the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers, members of this multi-racial group say they had no expectation the case would be where it is right now.

The case culminated with an indictment in January, naming Edgar Ray Killen as the defendant.

Neshoba Democrat publisher and editor Jim Prince was a part of the Philadelphia Coalition, but he says that indictment was as much a surprise to him as it was anyone else.

"There was a strong feeling for justice among the members of the coalition. I don't believe any of us went into that thinking that we'd see an indictment," said Prince.

The story has been written about and chronicled in books and movies like "Mississippi Burning" since it happened in 1964.

Three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, were killed while traveling from Philadelphia to Meridian.

For four decades, no one was ever indicted or tried on murder charges. People like John Keith Henry, a friend of Killen's, say it's too late to do it now.

"My personal feelings are, this should have never been brought back up," Henry said. "This is going to do nothing but hurt Neshoba County."

But former Neshoba Democrat editor Stanley Dearman, who has followed this story for the past forty years, disagrees.

"You hear people say, it's been too long, they ought not drag stuff up like this," said Dearman. "Well, they're expressing a bit of wishful thinking and the law doesn't recognize that point of view."

The years may have made the case more difficult, though, for both sides. Of the original 21 people indicted on federal conspiracy charges, only seven are still alive, and many of the people who might have knowledge of the case are also dead.

"Mr. Killen's case has deteriorated because of the death of witnesses. I think the state's case has deteriorated because of the death of witnesses," says James McIntyre, one of Killen's attorneys.

But the case will go forward anyway. There is an expectation that much of it will be spent re-reading testimony from the federal conspiracy trial.

The trial is expected to last about two weeks.