KKK ‘Mississippi Burning’ mastermind dead in prison at 92

An avowed segregationist to the end, the KKK mastermind behind the 1964 “Mississippi Burning” killings of three civil rights workers has died in prison at age 92, officials announced Friday.

Edgar Ray Killen was pronounced dead at the prison hospital at Mississippi State Penitentiary, where he was serving three consecutive 20-year terms for manslaughter, the state corrections department said.

An autopsy was pending, but no foul play was suspected, according to the department’s statement.

The deaths of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman shocked the nation, and led to the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The case was dramatized in the 1988 film Mississippi Burning.

“Those boys were Communists who went to a Communist training school,” an unrepentant Killen had said in a 1998 interview with the New York Times.

“I’m sorry they got themselves killed. But I can’t show remorse for something I didn’t do.”

Killen, a part-time preacher and lumber mill operator, was originally tried in 1967, along with 17 other defendants, on federal charges that they had violated the victims’ civil rights.

An all-white jury convicted only seven of the defendants; the lone holdout juror who caused Killen’s mistrial said she could never convict a preacher.

Killen would not be convicted in the slayings until 2005, at age 80, after renewed interest in the case.

Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman — all in their 20s — had been Freedom Summer members investigating the burning of a black church near Philadelphia, Mississippi when they were slain.

A local deputy sheriff had initially arrested them on a traffic charge. But while they were detained, Killen assembled the mob that later would ambush and shoot them on a rural home near Killen’s home, prosecutors said at his 2005 trial.

Killen told the mob to buy gloves, and instructed them on how to dispose of the bodies, but was not alleged to have been at the murder scene, prosecutors said.

It would take 44 days for federal officers, acting on an informant’s tip, to find the three bodies.

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The Mississippi governor at the time had claimed the disappearance was a hoax — until the three bodies were dug up from a red clay dam.

FBI files and court transcripts from the 1967 federal trail reveal that Killen did most of the planning in the killings. And the 2005 testimony divulged that he had served as a kleagle, or organizer, and helped set up a klavern, or local Klan group, in a neighboring county.

During his 2005 trial, witnesses testified that Killen went to Meridian to round up carloads of Klansmen to ambush the Freedom Summer Trio — telling some of them to bring plastic or rubber gloves. He then went to a Philadelphia funeral home as an alibi while his underlings carried out the attack.

Back in 2010, Killen sued the FBI, alleging that the government used a mafia hit man to pistol-whip and intimidate witnesses for details on the killings. The suit was later dismissed.

Still, Killen repeatedly insisted that he was a political prisoner — not a criminal.

“I could have beat that thing if I’d had the mental ability,” he later told The Associated Press.

When victim James Chaney’s sister, the Rev. Julia Chaney Moss, heard of Killen’s death, she said, “God has been kind to him. And for that I am grateful.”

“My last thought on this,” she added, “is just that I only wish peace and blessings for all the families as well as the families of the perpetrators.”

With Post wires

Source: https://nypost.com/2018/01/12/kkk-mississippi-burning-mastermind-dead-in-prison-at-92/

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