A brother of the man accused in the 1964 deaths of three civil rights workers took the stand Saturday in his defense, saying the defendant was at a Father's Day gathering when the killings occurred and never indicated he was in the Ku Klux Klan.
"Until he tells me so, I won't believe it," said Oscar Kenneth Killen, 74.
His brother, Edgar Ray Killen, a part-time preacher and sawmill operator, is being tried on the first-ever state murder charges in the deaths of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. Killen, 80, faces life in prison if convicted.
The defense called four witnesses Saturday -- including Oscar Killen and a sister, Dorothy Dearing, who both testified that Killen attended a family Father's Day meal until late in the afternoon of June 21, 1964, the day the three civil rights workers were killed.
Killen testified that he saw his brother at a funeral home that night.
The slain men, who were helping register black voters, had been stopped for speeding, jailed briefly and then released, after which they were ambushed by a gang of Klansmen. They were shot, their bodies found 44 days later buried in an earthen dam.
Prosecutors wrapped up their case Saturday with testimony from Chaney's mother, Fannie Lee Chaney. She testified that her son went to join the other two in delivering books.
"He never come back," she said.
Chaney, who now lives in New Jersey, said she moved from Mississippi in 1965 after receiving threats, including one by a man who said he would dynamite her house.
She said another caller told her "I wasn't going to be there long before I be put in a hole like James was."
After the defense witnesses testified, the trial was recessed for the weekend.
Defense attorneys said they would call two more witnesses Monday before closing arguments. Killen is not scheduled to testify.
Attorney General Jim Hood told reporters after court recessed that prosecutors would ask the judge to allow the jury to consider a lesser charge of manslaughter. Killen is charged with three counts of murder, which could lead to a life sentence. A manslaughter conviction would carry a maximum of 20 years.
Defense attorneys had no immediate comment.
Killen's name has been associated with the slayings from the outset. FBI records and witnesses indicated he organized the carloads of men who followed Chaney, a black man from Mississippi, and Schwerner and Goodman, white men from New York.
Killen was tried with several others in 1967 on federal charges of violating the victims' civil rights. The all-white jury deadlocked in Killen's case, but seven others were convicted. None served more than six years. Killen is the only person indicted on state murder charges in the deaths.