Killen seeks OK to pursue new trial in 1964 deaths

By The Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Edgar Ray Killen has until Jan. 8 to file documents with a federals appeal court to support claims he deserves a new trial in the 1964 deaths of three civil rights workers.

U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate on Nov. 14 denied Killen’s request to pursue an appeal. Wingate ruled that Killen failed to prove he was denied constitutional rights in his trial.

Killen was convicted of manslaughter in 2005, 41 years after the killing of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Following Wingate’s decision, Killen filed a request with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for a certificate of appealability, claiming he had new evidence — or a possible constitutional issue — that could persuade a court to order a new trial.

The 5th Circuit on Nov. 29 granted Killen’s motion to file for the certificate. If it is granted, the court said it would then set a schedule for briefs.

On June 21, 1964, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner disappeared in Neshoba County. The FBI found their bodies buried in an earthen dam on Aug. 4, 1964, several miles from where they had been abducted by Ku Klux Klansmen.

In 1967, seven men were convicted of federal charges of violating the civil rights of the men killed. None served more than six years in prison. The trial for Killen, a reputed Klan leader and part-time preacher, on the federal charges ended in a hung jury.

The slayings shocked the nation, helped spur passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and were dramatized in the 1988 movie “Mississippi Burning.”

In court papers, Killen’s attorneys said they want to pursue several issues including that Killen’s defense team did a poor job.

Killen also claims several constitutional rights violations such as the time delay between the trio’s deaths and his indictment, variances between the indictment and the jury’s verdict and prosecutors’ failure to turn over evidence that could prove his innocence.

Click video to hear audio