A jury has been seated today for the trial of Edgar Ray Killen for the 1964 murders of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney. The jury panel consists of thirteen whites and four blacks (five of the jurors are alternates).
Killen is accused of masterminding the plot to kill the three civil rights workers who had come from Meridian to investigate the burning of Mt. Zion Methodist Church in the Longdale community of Neshoba county. Mt. Zion was to be the site of black voter registration drives as well as “freedom schools”. Klansmen beat several members of the church and torched the church the evening of June 16.
James Chaney was a Meridian native, while Goodman and Schwerner were Jewish volunteers from New York state. Goodman had only been in Mississippi one day before the murders.
Federal charges were brought in 1967 against 19 suspects, including Killen, for civil rights violations. Six were convicted and served short sentences. Killen was not convicted; the jury was 11-1 in favor of conviction, however one juror expressed that she could not convict a preacher (Killen has been a part-time preacher).
This is the first time that state murder charges have been filed against any of the suspects. At present, only Killen is to be charged. Organizers of an annual commemoration at the church plan to use this year’s event, scheduled for June 19, to press for additional charges against other surviving suspects.
Cole Thornton, Imperial Klaliff of the American White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, has appeared at the Neshoba County courthouse in support of Killen. “Our interest is just to see that this man gets through this, to try to help him any way we can,” Thornton said. “You know, a little support. Show him that there’s still people out there that still care about the rights in this country. We don’t have civil rights other people have. We’re already, you know, stepped on, and that’s okay.”
Opening statements have also been made this afternoon. The trial will resume tomorrow and is estimated to take between one and two weeks.
The DSJV will continue to provide ongoing coverage.