Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of manslaughter in one of the most notorious crimes of the civil rights era, the killing of three civil rights workers on a country road just outside the old lumber town of Philadelphia, Miss.
On Tuesday, the 41st anniversary of the killings, law enforcement officers shuttled off to jail a man who for four decades had embodied Mississippi at its meanest and angriest: a country preacher with thick woodcutter's forearms who ordered killings out of hate and bragged about it. He left the courthouse a stooped old man in a wheelchair, clinging to an oxygen tube but still angry.
Two days later, Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon sentenced Killen, 80, to the maximum 60 years in prison for the killings.
Jurors took just 51/2 hours to convict the former Ku Klux Klan leader of manslaughter in the deaths of the three men whose names are synonymous with the violence of the civil rights era: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.
Prosecutors wanted to get Killen -- whose attorneys plan to appeal the verdict -- for murder, but they were undermined by a dearth of live witnesses decades after the killings and a presentation that, at times, was devoid of the precision and passion many hoped for. Acknowledging that their case was weakened by an inability to get Killen's few living accomplices to cooperate, prosecutors settled for giving jurors the fallback option of sending him to prison for manslaughter.
"It's not the perfect verdict, I suppose," Neshoba County District Attorney Mark Duncan said. "But you have to understand it was not a perfect case."
-- Manuel Roig-Franzia