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Authorities Arrest Man in Civil Rights Murder Case


Authorities in the U.S. State of Mississippi have arrested a man alleged to have been the ringleader in the murder of three civil rights workers more than 40 years ago.

Edgar Ray Killen, an alleged member of the Ku Klux Klan, was arrested at his home in Philadelphia, Mississippi and charged with three counts of murder.

Mr. Killen is one of eight suspects in the murders of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman. The three young civil rights workers disappeared just outside Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964. The three were registering voters during the so-called "freedom summer" of
1964 when they were arrested. Just after they were released from jail they disappeared. Their bodies were found several weeks later. The three were reported to have been beaten and shot to death by a group of Ku Klux Klansmen. Members of the hate group terrorized blacks in many parts of the U.S. for nearly a century.

Nineteen men, including Edgar Ray Killen were tried in 1967 on federal civil rights charges in the case. Seven men were convicted but Edgar Ray Killen was set free after the jury deadlocked. Mississippi authorities reopened the case after a local newspaper published secret testimony by one of the defendants in the case that implicated Mr. Killen as the leader of the group that killed the three civil rights workers. In a court appearance on Friday, Mr. Killen said he is not guilty. Prosecutors say there will be no other indictments in the case.

Joe Roy is the lead investigator for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, a civil rights organization that tracks hate groups. He says Edgar Ray Killen's arrest is long overdue.

"It is justice delayed, said Mr. Roy. ”We are seeing a lot of these cases that have been revisited over the last five or ten years, that have been brought back under the microscope. They have been put before grand juries and there have been indictments and convictions. It is encouraging to see
that they are trying to make an effort to clear up these matters. I know in this particular case there was a mistrial early on and Killen was a defendant in it."

All three of the victims were in their early twenties when they were murdered. James Chaney was an African-American from Mississippi. Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were white men from New York. The killings shocked the nation and in part prompted a federal crackdown on the Ku Klux Klan. Joe Roy says that while the Ku Klux Klan is not the threat it was 40 years ago, it still survives.

"There are a lot of them out there unfortunately,” he added. “We tracked over 751 hate groups and organizations that around the United States in 2003. We think that number may go up a little bit in 2004. Of those 751 groups about 158 are Klan type groups spread out around the country. That
represents around 40 different organized Klan organizations."

Mr. Roy says the encouraging news about this case and others like it is that Mississippi authorities and other local authorities in the U.S. South are now bringing charges against the aging Klan leaders implicated in crimes from the civil rights era. About 40 years ago he says it was only federal authorities who were concerned with prosecuting civil rights crimes.

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