Wednesday, June 29, 2005
After a Neshoba County jury found Edgar Ray Killen guilty of three counts of manslaughter on June 21 for orchestrating the deaths of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, his week went from bad to worse. Being rolled out of the courtroom that day, the Baptist preacher struck and shoved a WAPT cameraman, showing a less genteel side of himself than the jury had seen in the courtroom, where he often dozed when they were in the room (and took notes when they weren't).
Killen had also audibly called Attorney General Jim Hood a "son of a bitch" during his closing statement after Hood called him a "coward" filled with "venom. "It's seething behind those glasses," Hood said to the jury, pointing to Killen, drawing the expletive from the elderly defendant.
On Thursday, June 23, Killen was returned to the courtroom in a bright yellow Neshoba County Jail jumpsuit to hear his sentence from Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon. It was a turnabout of sorts; years before, Killen had preached the funerals of both Gordon's parents. However, despite those earlier connections, Gordon was not kind to Killen that day.
The judge had wide discretion going into the sentencing. He had to sentence Killen to at least one year for each count—because Killen had been convicted of a felony previously for threatening a woman on the telephone—and could sentence him up to 20 for each. He could order Killen to serve the sentences concurrently or consecutively—thus, Killen was facing from one to 60 years in prison.
Gordon went for Killen's jugular—sending him away until he is 140 years old or dies first, whichever comes first. (Actually, Killen could be up for parole in 20 years when he's 100.)
Even more powerful than his tough sentence, though, were Gordon's words that day. "I have to pass on a sentence to a person who is 80 years old. A person who has suffered a serious injury," Gordon told the courtroom. "There are those of you in the courtroom that would say a sentence of 10 years would be a life sentence. There are those who would say Edgar Ray Killen should be sentenced to serve 60 years."
He continued: "I heard the evidence of this case. ... Each life has value. Each life is equally as valuable as the other life, and I have taken that into consideration. The three lives should absolutely be respected and treated equally."
Gordon did not allow statements from the families of either Killen or of the victims. However, he reportedly had given Killen the chance to express remorse in chambers, but the 80-year-old former kleagle for the Ku Klux Klan refused. Killen has remained unrepentant for his role in the conspiracy to kill the civil rights workers, in Mississippi to help votes register to vote, since 1964. He was acquitted in a 1967 federal conspiracy trial only because one juror said she could never convict a preacher.
After the verdict, Hood told reporters that none of the other conspirators who are still living would testify against Killen, even in exchange for immunity. They could still be prosecuted although Hood downplayed that possibility during this trial, saying the evidence against the others is weak.
Hood also emphasized to reporters that Killen's preacher designation has no role in the discussion of his crimes. "This murder was not sanctioned by God. It was sanctioned by evil men," he said.
On Monday, June 27, Killen was back in Gordon's courtroom. He was still wearing his bright yellow jumpsuit and was there with his wife, Betty Jo, and other family members. This time, the courtroom was nearly empty with mostly Mississippi reporters there. For about 40 minutes, his attorneys, James McIntyre and Mitch Moran, urged the judge to order a new trial for Killen for several reasons. For one, the January 2005 indictment did not mention manslaughter, for which he was ultimately convicted. However, Mississippi law always includes manslaughter as a lesser offense.
The judge dismissed that argument and four other technical ones he had ruled on previously—including that Killen's "due process" rights were violated because he did not get a speedy trial 41 years after the fact.
"There is nothing in your motion that is valid," the judge answered.
After the hearing, Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps oversaw the transfer of Killen to the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County. That facility is close to a major regional hospital should Killen need medical assistance, Epps said. He will be in a single cell, isolated from the general population.
During the next two to four weeks, Killen will undergo "classification" to determine if he is a "medium" or "maximum security" felon. If medium, he will be in a single cell 24 hours a day Monday through Friday, with one hour daily outside his cell, still in isolation, for "personal hygiene." He will be locked up for 24 hours a day on weekends and get two hour-long visits from family or others a month. The only difference for a maximum category is that he gets only one visitation a month.
During this time, the state will also decide whether to leave Killen in the Rankin facility or move him to Parchman.
The case now enters the appeals process. Defense attorneys have 30 days from June 27 to file their appeal, which will likely be based on "due process" arguments. Once the appeal is filed, they can request that Judge Gordon allow Killen freedom on bail pending the outcome of the appeal process, which could take three to four years. Legal experts believe that Gordon will deny that request.
Dr. Howard Ball, author of "Murder in Mississippi: United States v. Price and the Struggle for Civil Rights" (University Press of Kansas, 2004), provided additional reporting from Neshoba County for this story.
I would be incredibly shocked if he was let out on bail. The whole world has Neshoba County under a microscope, so setting bail would send the wrong message. If they set bail, let it be that he should give an apology for his actions. Let's see if he'll take that one!
I wonder if Killen is keeping a silent code for the real killers...to his death.
Killen Returns to Court Memphis-A Neshoba County judge will hold a hearing on whether to revoke Edgar Ray Killen's bond. The Mississippi man was convicted of manslaughter in the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers. Channel 3 reports: A Neshoba County jury convicted Killen in June of planning the June 21st, 1964, killings of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. He was sentenced to three consecutive 20-year terms. He was released on a 600-thousand-dollar bond pending his appeal, after testifying from his wheelchair about the pain he endured in jail. Now the district attorney says Killen misrepresented his physical condition to the court. That claim surfaced after a chief deputy for the Winston County Sheriff's Department told a Mississippi newspaper that he saw Killen walking last week at a Conoco gas station in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Now the district attorney says Killen misrepresented his physical condition to the court. That claim surfaced after a chief deputy for the Winston County Sheriff's Department told a Mississippi newspaper that he saw Killen walking last week at a Conoco gas station in Philadelphia, Mississippi. See there! I knew Mr. Six Flags was lying!