PHILADELPHIA, Miss. – Reputed Ku Klux Klansman Edgar Ray Killen (search) watched from a wheelchair Monday as jury selection began in his murder trial in one of most shocking crimes of the civil rights era — the 1964 slayings of three voter-registration volunteers.
The case against the 80-year-old Killen represents Mississippi's latest attempt to deal with unfinished business from the statsage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (search). The case was dramatized in the 1988 movie "Mississippi Burning."
Security was tight as about 110 potential jurors were brought to the county courthouse on buses and ushered in through a side door. Another group is expected on Tuesday. Summonses went out to about 400 people.
Killen, a part-time preacher who has been free on bail, looked straight ahead and said nothing as he was taken into the two-story, red-brick courthouse in a wheelchair.
A federal trial was held in the 1960s, but Killen, an 80-year-old part-time preacher, is the only person ever indicted on state murder charges in the case.
Streets near the courthouse were barricaded more than hour before the scheduled start of jury selection.
There were no early protests but a man who said he was Joseph J. Harper of Cordele, Ga., passed around business cards identifying himself as the Imperial Wizard of the American White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Inc. (search) The man would not talk with reporters.
Among those at the courthouse was Chaney's brother, Ben Chaney of New York, who has been the most vocal member of the family in seeking justice in the case.
Killen's name has been associated with the slayings from the beginning. FBI records and witnesses indicated he organized the carloads of Klansmen who followed Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner and stopped them in their station wagon.
Chaney, a black man from Mississippi, and Schwerner and Goodman, white men from New York, were beaten and shot to death. Their bodies were found 44 days later, buried in an earthen dam.
Killen was tried along 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 ever indicted on state murder charges in the case.
Opening statements could start by Wednesday or Thursday.
Defense attorney James McIntyre said before entering the courthouse that it would be extremely difficult to seat a jury.
"Everybody in the world has known about this case through the news media, books and hearsay," he said. "There's no place on earth you can go where people haven't heard about this case." But eventually, he said, "I think the jury will acquit him."
Journalists from as far away as Sweden applied for credentials to cover the trial, which will be televised by Court TV. The judge was offered extra security but said: "I'm not sure I waj10970mo— r n BC-KS—SoldiersCharged-W Bjt 06-13 0596 BC-KS—Soldiers Charged-What's Next, Bjt,0550
Five of six soldiers charged with murder await appeals
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By JOHN MILBURN
Associated Press Writer
FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) — Five of six murder cases involving soldiers from an Army infantry battalion are beginning their appeals for crimes that stretch from the streets of Baghdad to a rural Kansas farm.
An eight-member military panel sentenced Sgt. Aaron Stanley on Saturday to life in prison without parole for two counts of premeditated murders on Sept. 13, 2004, of soldiers at a farmhouse he rented near Clay Center. Stanley was acquitted of conspiracy to commit the murders.
He will serve his sentence at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth.
Stanley, 23, of Bismarck, N.D., will receive an automatic appeal of his conviction after it is reviewed by Maj. Gen. Dennis Hardy, commander of the 24th Infantry Division at Fort Riley.
Hardy can approve the sentence and forward the case to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, or recommend clemency for Stanley, said Lt. Col. David Velloney, deputy staff advocate general at Fort Riley.
Stanley was convicted for the shooting deaths of Staff Sgt. Matthew Werner, 30, of Oxnard, Calif., and Spc. Christopher D. Hymer, 23, of Nevada, Mo. Prosecutors argued Stanley shot the two soldiers over fears they would report his drug operations at the farm to civilian or military investigators.
Also charged in the case was Sgt. Eric Colvin, 23, of Papillion, Neb., who agreed to testify against Stanley in exchange for a plea deal with prosecutors. According to testimony during Stanley's court-martial, Colvin is likely to have two premeditated murder charges dropped, but he has entered guilty pleas for related drug charges.
Velloney said prosecutors would decide in the coming weeks whether to go forward with a conspiracy charge against Colvin.
All four soldiers were members of the 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, part of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division stationed at Fort Riley.
About two-thirds of the 750 members of the battalion have returned to Fort Riley in recent days from their second tour of duty in Iraq.
Four other soldiers with the battalion's C Company have been court-martialed for the deaths of Iraqi civilians.
In January, the Army convicted Staff Sgt. Cardenas J. Alban of Inglewood, Calif., of murder for the shooting of a wounded 16-year-old Iraqi as U.S. forces battled an uprising in Sadr City in August. Staff Sgt. Johnny M. Horne Jr., of Winston-Salem, N.C., was sentenced in December to three years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy in the same killing.
On May 11, a military panel sentenced Sgt. Michael P. Williams, of Memphis, Tenn., to life with parole for one count of premeditated murder and one count of unpremeditated murder for the August death of an Iraq civilian, also in Sadr City.
A second soldier was sentenced May 9 for his role in the death. Spc. Brent W. May, of Salem, Ohio, was convicted of one count of unpremeditated murder and sentenced to five years in prison.
The cases will be reviewed by the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, a three-member panel. A final review will be conducted by a five-member civilian panel, which is appointed by the president for terms of 15 years.