Could a 79-year-old Baptist preacher have brutally murdered three boys as part of a KKK murdering binge?  

Edgar Ray Killen, a Baptist preacher, was charged with three counts of murder in Philadelphia, Mississippi, on Friday; he was charged with murdering three voter registration workers — Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney — in 1964.  

While Killen was tried in 1967, along with 17 others, for civil rights violations relating to the murder of the three young men, he is the only one of those who stood trial who has never been incarcerated. During his trial in 1967, 11 members of his jury believed he was guilty, but one member dissented and the jury was hung; the 12th member of the jury later explained that she refused to convict a preacher.

Curiously, Killen is the only person associated with the crime who has been charged with murder, and he pled not guilty on Friday to all three counts. In a move fit for low-brow and highly engrossing daytime TV, Killen’s 63-year-old brother, JD, assaulted a cameraman as the family left the courthouse.

The trial may become something of a curiosity — after all, a septuagenarian preacher is being prosecuted, largely on the basis of evidence from a 1967 trial, for a murder that occurred over 40 years ago. It does, however, demonstrate that the battle for civil rights is still dutifully being fought in the 21st century.

Mimi Hanaoka


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