Image: Edgar Ray Killen
Marianne Todd  /  Getty Images
Edgar Ray Killen enters a Mississippi courthouse on Friday.
updated 6/18/2005 2:33:53 PM ET 2005-06-18T18:33:53

A brother of the man accused in the 1964 deaths of three civil rights workers took the stand Saturday in his defense, saying the defendant was at a Father’s Day gathering that day and never indicated he was in the Ku Klux Klan.

“Until he tells me so, I won’t believe it,” said Oscar Kenneth Killen, 74.

His brother, Edgar Ray Killen, 80, a part-time preacher and sawmill operator, is being tried on the first-ever state murder charges in the killings of Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney. He faces life in prison if convicted.

The defense called four witnesses Saturday — including Oscar Killen, who said his brother attended a family Father’s Day meal on June 21, 1964, the day the three workers were killed.

The slain men, who were helping register black voters, had been stopped for speeding, jailed briefly and then released, after which they were ambushed by a gang of Klansmen. They were shot, their bodies found 44 days later buried in an earthen dam.

Testimony from slain man's mother
Prosecutors wrapped up their case Saturday with testimony from Chaney’s mother, Fannie Lee Chaney. She testified that her son went to join the other two in delivering books.

Video: 1967 testimony read

“He never come back,” she said.

Fannie Lee Chaney, who now lives in New Jersey, said she moved from Mississippi in 1965 after receiving threats that including one by a man who said he would dynamite her house.

She said another caller told her “I wasn’t going to be there long before I be put in a hole like James was.”

After the initial defense witnesses, the trial was recessed for the weekend.

Defense attorneys said they would call two more witnesses Monday before closing arguments. They said earlier that they had not decided whether to put Killen on the stand.

Lesser charge may be considered
Attorney General Jim Hood told reporters after court recessed that prosecutors would ask the judge to allow the jury to consider a lesser charge of manslaughter in the case. Killen is charged with three counts of murder, which could lead to a life sentence. A manslaughter conviction would carry a maximum of 20 years.

Defense attorneys had no immediate comment.

Killen’s name has been associated with the slayings from the outset. FBI records and witnesses indicated he organized the carloads of men who followed Chaney, a black man from Mississippi, and Schwerner and Goodman, white men from New York.

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.

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