PHILADELPHIA, Miss. – The jury deliberating the fate of an 80-year-old former Ku Klux Klansman (search) accused of masterminding three murders exactly 41 years ago returned to work Tuesday, the morning after they told the judge they were split 6-6.
After a few hours of work, panelists ended their first day of deliberations on Monday evenly divided on the case of Edgar Ray Killen (search), the sawmill operator, part-time preacher — and, prosecutors say, Klan organizer.
Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon (search) didn't ask jurors if the 6-6 split was between guilt and innocence or between convicting for murder or manslaughter.
The judge sent jurors back to deliberations Tuesday — the anniversary of the day in 1964 that civil rights workers James Chaney (search), Andrew Goodman (search) and Michael Schwerner (search) disappeared. The case brought national attention to the Jim Crow code of segregation in the South and helped spur passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Prosecutors do not believe the jurors — nine white and three black — are deadlocked, said Assistant Attorney General Jacob Ray. He said Monday's initial jury deliberations mean little about the possible outcome of the weeklong case.
"Essentially, the jury was given the case late in the afternoon and with the case came extensive jury instruction. Given that amount of jury instruction, it left little time to look at the actual evidence," Ray said Tuesday.
State Rep. Reecy Dickson, a veteran of black voter registration drives who has been watching the case, said she wasn't surprised the jury was split after early deliberations.
"Even though it was 41 years ago, the ancestors and the mind-set of that time still live on in some," she said outside the courtroom.
During closing arguments Monday, prosecutors made an impassioned plea for a conviction, saying the victims' families have waited too long for someone to be brought to justice in state court.
"Because the guilt of Edgar Ray Killen is so clear, there is only one question left," District Attorney Mark Duncan said. "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."
Killen could get life in prison if convicted of murder or up to 20 years on each of the three counts if convicted of manslaughter.
During closing arguments, defense attorney James McIntyre said that while events that happened in 1964 were horrible and he has sympathy for the families of the victims, "the burden of proof does not reflect any guilt whatsoever" on the part of Killen.
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.
The trial has reopened one of the most notorious chapters of the civil rights era.
The victims were investigating the burning of a black church when they were stopped for speeding, held in the county jail for several hours. After they were released, they were ambushed by a gang of Klansmen. They were shot to death on a dark country road near Killen's home on June 21, 1964, and their bodies were found 44 days later buried in an earthen dam several miles away.
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.
Because many of those who testified in 1967 have since died, transcripts of their testimony were read to jurors in the state case last week.