Court proceedings came to an abrupt stop in the middle of testimony at the Edgar Ray Killen trial Thursday. Judge Marcus Gordon left the bench without informing the jury or others in the courtroom why. Killen had left the courtroom several minutes beforehand.
Just minutes later, Killen was rushed out of the courthouse on a hospital stretcher, oxygen tubes in his nose, on his way to Neshoba County Regional Hospital in an ambulance.
His attorney says Killen was suffering from high blood pressure and had to be taken in quickly.
"He had a smothering sensation. That's when he first went in to his nurse for observation and treatment and then they called in some oxygen for him, and then they called a paramedic and the paramedic suggested they take him to the emergency room," said James McIntyre.
Judge Gordon entered the courtroom not long afterwards, dismissing the jury without informing them of Killen's condition.
"If you've had no experience with court before, you now have experience and one thing you should first recognize is that you always have to expect the unexpected," said Gordon.
Killen was admitted to the hospital for observation. He did not return to the courtroom. The doctor treating him says he is in good condition after being given medication for high blood pressure. Dr. Patrick Eakes says the stress of the trial, Killen's age and the injury he sustained in a tree cutting accident in March could have contributed to his condition. He also says keeping him overnight was his only option.
"Everybody's ready to get this trial back going. But if you came in with these symptoms, I'd keep you till tomorrow morning," Dr. Eakes said.
Killen was not in the courtroom during the testimony of the trial's first witness, Rita Schwerner Bender, the widow of Michael Schwerner.
Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman were killed on a rural Neshoba County road after they had been in the county to investigate the burning of a black church. Their bodies were found 44 days later, buried in an earthen dam.
Mrs. Bender, who now lives in Seattle, kept her composure Thursday as she told a silent courtroom audience about the moment she knew she'd never see her husband Mickey again.
Bender had been in Ohio for civil rights training when the three workers disappeared. Two days later, she was in a Cincinnati airport trying to get home when she learned that the burned-out hull of her husband's station wagon had been found in a Neshoba County swamp.
"I think it really hit me for the first time that they were dead. That there was no realistic possibility that they were still alive," Bender said.
Court is expected to be in session again Friday at 8:30 a.m.