"Mississippi Burning" Klansman dies in prison


The man convicted in the 1964 slayings of three MS civil rights workers, more than 40 years later, has died in prison.

Killen was serving a total of 60 years for manslaughter for the June 21, 1964, deaths of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County.

Killen would have turned 93 on January 17.

The part-time preacher and lumber mill operator was 80 when he was convicted on the three counts of manslaughter - 41 years to the day after the murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner.

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The Mississippi Department of Corrections says Killen's cause of death is pending an autopsy, but that he was suffering from congestive heart failure and hypertension. Foul play was not suspected in the former Ku Klux Klan leader's death.

Their bodies were found 44 days later, buried in an earthen dam, after an extensive FBI investigation.

The state did not pursue the case for four decades, but eventually Killen was brought to face a new trial in 2005. Only seven were convicted by an all-white jury, and none served more than seven years in prison.

The events of that night in Mississippi inspired the critically acclaimed 1988 film "Mississippi Burning", starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe. The jury was unable to agree on a verdict for Killen with the hold-out juror saying she could never convict a preacher. "I'm sorry they got themselves killed".

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A MS judge attempted to dismiss the charges against most of the defendants, but the Supreme Court later reversed the decision.

Killen did not testify at the trial, which was attended by Schwerner's widow and the mothers of Chaney and Goodman, and sat impassively in a wheelchair, breathing from an oxygen tank as the verdict was announced.

At the time, no federal murder statutes existed, and the state of MS never brought charges.

Almost 40 years later, he was retried after the state reopened the murder investigations.

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