Judge orders ex-Klansman back to prison

Killen, convicted in civil rights killings, appears not to be disabled


A judge sent Edgar Ray Killen, the former Klansman convicted of the 1964 killing of three civil rights workers in Mississippi, back to prison yesterday, saying Killen had deceived the court about his health when he asked to be released on bond.

The hearing was called after Killen, who was granted bail after testifying that he had to use a wheelchair, was seen up and walking by sheriff's deputies.

"That's incredible to me," the judge, Marcus Gordon, said. "I feel fraud has been committed on this court."

"Without the testimony of the defendant's poor physical condition," Marcus' written order said, "the court finds that the defendant has failed to show by clear and convincing evidence that he is not a danger to the community."

W. Mitch Moran, one of Killen's defense lawyers, said that prosecutors had not shown that his client had committed fraud but added that he was not surprised by the ruling. "Politics and political pressure got to the judge," he said.

Many civic leaders in Philadelphia, Miss., had been dismayed when the judge granted bail to Killen, 80, pending his appeal, raising the possibility that he would die a free man after serving barely six weeks of his sentence.

They viewed Killen's conviction in June in the decades-old case as a chance to overcome the town's reputation as the place where one of the most infamous deeds of the civil rights era took place.

But at the bond hearing last month, Gordon said that Killen, who was convicted of three counts of manslaughter, had not been shown to be a flight risk or a threat and was entitled to be released on bond, which he set at $600,000.

Killen, his brother, and his friends and neighbors put up enough property to make bail that afternoon.

Killen's ailments played a major, if silent, role in the trial. He used a wheelchair as a result of a logging accident in March and had a private nurse waiting outside the courtroom at all times. On the first day of testimony, he had to be hospitalized, and when the verdict was read, he used an oxygen tank.

At his bond hearing, he used his left hand to raise his right hand to swear the oath, saying he could not move it on its own. He testified that he needed to use the wheelchair except while sleeping, and complained of pain and a lack of medical attention in prison.

But yesterday, four sheriff's deputies testified that they had seen Killen driving around Neshoba County, and a fifth said he had seen him getting gas. A woman whose family owns the gas station also testified that he had come there to buy gas.

"He was walking between the truck and gas pump" unaided, said Connie Hampton, a deputy.

Killen was convicted in the disappearance of three young Freedom Summer workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who had been visiting Philadelphia to inspect a black church burned by the Klan.

The three were stopped by a sheriff's deputy for speeding and held in the county jail until a mob of Klansmen could gather. After their release, they were waylaid, beaten and shot, then buried in a pond dam with a bulldozer.

Their bodies were not found for over a month, and the story dominated the nation's headlines.

The federal government tried 18 men for conspiracy to deprive the three men of their civil rights. Seven were convicted, but in Killen's case the all-white jury deadlocked, with 11 in favor of conviction and one holdout who said she could not convict Killen because the defendant was a preacher.

At the hearing in June, prosecutors said that Killen had organized the mob, even ordering them to buy gloves and planning where the bodies would be hidden, though he was not present when the killings took place.

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