By Kenneth Billings
PHILADELPHIA, Miss. (Reuters) – A Mississippi judge postponed on Thursday the murder trial of a suspected Ku Klux Klansman who is charged with the notorious 1964 murders of three civil rights workers.
Edgar Ray Killen, 80, will go on trial April 18 in Philadelphia, Mississippi, three weeks later than originally scheduled, Circuit Court Judge Marcus Gordon said during a pretrial hearing.
Gordon said the delay would give Killen’s lawyers time to review tips received since the state reopened its investigation of the slayings of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, who were shot outside this town 41 years ago.
The judge also noted that the original March 28 trial date would likely conflict with other court business scheduled for the following week. «It will be impossible to try this case in five or six days,» Gordon said.
Killen, a woodsman and ordained Baptist preacher, did not say anything during the brief hearing in this eastern Mississippi town. He has pleaded not guilty to the murders and is free on bail.
Prosecutors believe Killen was the mastermind of a Klan plot to abduct and kill the civil rights workers June 21, 1964, shortly after they were released from the local jail where they had been held on charges of speeding and arson.
The trio, all in their 20s, were killed for helping blacks register to vote during the so-called Freedom Summer campaign. The murders horrified America and were dramatized in the 1988 movie «Mississippi Burning.»
Killen was among 18 men, including several known Klansmen, who were tried for federal civil rights violations in 1967. Seven were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of between three and 10 years. Killen’s trial ended in a hung jury.
Despite evidence collected by the FBI, state prosecutors, perhaps concerned that no jury in Mississippi had ever convicted whites for killing blacks or civil rights workers, did not indict the suspects.
By Kenneth Billings