PHILADELPHIA, Miss. – The murder case against a former Klansman charged in the slayings of three civil rights workers went to the jury Monday after prosecutors made an impassioned plea for a conviction, saying the victims' families have waited a long 41 years for someone to be brought to justice.
"Because the guilt of Edgar Ray Killen (search) is so clear, there is only one question left," prosecutor Mark Duncan said in closing arguments. "Is a Neshoba County jury going to tell the rest of the world that we are not going to let Edgar Ray Killen get away with murder any more? Not one day more."
The 12 jurors — nine white and three black — deliberated the fate of 80-year-old Edgar Ray Killen for about two and a half hours Monday before going home without a verdict. At the end of the day, the judge polled jurors to determine how they were progressing, and the panel reported being deadlocked 6-6. The judge then told them to return Tuesday to resume deliberations.
In his closing argument, defense attorney James McIntyre (search) said that while events that occurred in 1964 were horrible and he had sympathy for the families of the victims, "the burden of proof does not reflect any guilt whatsoever" on the part of Killen, who could get life in prison.
McIntyre acknowledged that Killen was once a Klan member, but added: "He's not charged with being a member of the Klan, he's charged with murder." He then pointed out that no witnesses could put Killen at the scene of the crime. Killen did not take the stand.
"If you vote your conscience you are voting not guilty," he said. "There is a reasonable doubt."
The prosecutor said that while there was no testimony putting the murder weapon in Killen's hands, the evidence showed he was a Klan organizer and had played a personal role in preparations the day of the murders.
"He was in the Klan and he was a leader," Attorney General Jim Hood said.
The trial has reopened one of the most notorious chapters of the civil rights era.
The victims — James Chaney (search), Andrew Goodman (search) and Michael Schwerner (search) — were helping register black voters when they were ambushed by a gang of Klansmen. They were beaten and shot, and their bodies were found 44 days later buried in an earthen dam.
FBI records and witnesses indicated Killen organized carloads of men who followed Chaney, a black man from Mississippi, and Schwerner and Goodman, white men from New York.
Their disappearance focused the nation's attention on the Jim Crow code of segregation in the South and helped spur passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act (search) of 1964.
Hood noted that the men disappeared on June 21, 1964. He said families of the three men "have waited 41 years — tomorrow it'll be 41 years — to see this case put before a jury on murder charges."
"Those three boys and their families were robbed of all the things that Edgar Ray Killen has been able to enjoy for these last 40 years," Duncan said.
Killen was tried in 1967 along with several others 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.
The defense rested earlier Monday after a former mayor testified that the Klan was a "peaceful organization."
Harlan Majure, who was mayor of this rural Mississippi town in the 1990s, said Killen was a good man and that the part-time preacher's Klan membership would not change his opinion.
Majure said the Klan "did a lot of good up here" and said he was not personally aware of the organization's bloody past.
"As far as I know it's a peaceful organization," Majure said. His comment was met with murmurs in the packed courtroom.