- Edgar Ray Killen convicted of manslaughter in 2005 for the deaths on Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman
- The three men were registering black voters in Mississippi in 1964 when they vanished and were found buried in a dam weeks later
- Killen’s attorneys had claimed there were violations of his constitutional rights during his trial but the courts found none
By DAILY MAIL REPORTER and ASSOCIATED PRESS
PUBLISHED: 09:07 EST, 5 November 2013 | UPDATED: 09:25 EST, 5 November 2013
The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from a former Ku Klux Klan leader convicted of orchestrating the 1964 slayings of three civil rights workers in a case known as ‘Mississippi Burning’.
Attorneys for Edgar Ray Killen, who was convicted of manslaughter in 2005, had claimed there were violations of his constitutional rights during his trial, but a lower-court ruling found none.
On Monday, the justices said they will not review these findings.
Killen, now 88, was convicted exactly 41 years to the day after the deaths of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman. He is serving 60 years in a Mississippi prison.
In 1964, Schwerner and Goodman, two white men from New York, came to Mississippi as part of Freedom Summer and worked with Chaney, a black Mississippian, to help register black voters.
But when they went to investigate the burning of an African-American church in Neshoba County, they were ambushed by members of the Ku Klux Klan and shot dead before being buried 15 feet beneath an earthen dam.
Their bodies were found in the dam near Philadelphia, Mississippi more than a month later after an intense search.
The deaths were dramatized in the 1988 movie ‘Mississippi Burning’ which starred Gene Hackman and Willem Defoe as the two FBI agents investigating the killings.
In 1967, 18 men went on trial on federal conspiracy charges in the deaths but despite evidence that Killen orchestrated the killings, he walked free after a federal jury deadlocked 11-1.
At the time, the 12th, stand-alone jury member said she could ‘never convict a preacher’.
But the jury convicted seven others, including Sam Bowers, who had ordered the killings.
Two decades later, in an interview that was to be sealed until his death, Bowers said he was ‘quite delighted to be convicted’ and have ‘the main instigator of the entire affair walk out of the courtroom a free man’ – referring to Killen.
His remarks were revealed by The Clarion-Ledger in 1998 and sparked calls for a review of the case and to prosecute Killen.
Killen, once a part-time Baptist preacher, was the only person indicted in 2005 when prosecutors brought the first state charges.
He was indicted on murder charges but jurors were given the option to convict him of manslaughter, which they did.
Killen’s attorney, Robert Ratliff of Mobile, Alabama, did not immediately respond to a phone message on Monday.
Killen’s lawyers had raised several arguments in his appeals, including that his defense team didn’t do a good job in representing him at trial in Neshoba County.
They also argued that his constitutional rights were violated by the decades-long delay between the deaths and his indictment, by variances between the charges in the indictment and the jury’s verdict, and by prosecutors’ alleged failure to turn over evidence that could prove his innocence.
U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate in Jackson, Mississippi, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals both rejected Killen’s appeals before the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court.