Video: Sentence in civil rights slayings

updated 6/23/2005 9:04:51 PM ET 2005-06-24T01:04:51

Former Ku Klux Klansman Edgar Ray Killen was sentenced Thursday to the maximum 60 years in prison for masterminding the 1964 slayings of three civil rights workers.

Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon on sentenced Killen to 20-year terms on each of three counts of manslaughter. Gordon said the terms will run consecutively.

Killen, 80, was convicted Tuesday, 41 years after Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman were killed.

Killen sat in a wheelchair as the judge announced the sentence. The judge said he took no pleasure in the task and said the law makes no distinction on the defendant’s age at the time of sentencing.

“I have taken that into consideration that there are three lives involved in this case and the three lives should absolutely be respected,” Gordon said.

Appeal pending
Defense attorney James McIntyre has said he will appeal, arguing that the jury should not have been allowed to consider manslaughter. Gordon will hear a motion for a new trial on Monday.

FBI via AP file
The three civil rights workers killed in 1964 were: Michael Schwerner, 24, of New York; James Chaney, 21, from Mississippi; and Andrew Goodman, 20, of New York.

With a murder charge, prosecutors had to prove intent to kill and a conviction would have carried life in prison. With a manslaughter charge, prosecutors had to prove only that a victim died while another crime was being committed.

Chaney was a black Mississippian and Schwerner and Goodman were white New Yorkers. The three civil-rights volunteers were intercepted by Klansmen in their station wagon on June 21, 1964, and shot to death. After a massive FBI search, the bodies were found 44 days later, buried in an earthen dam.

The slayings helped spur passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the FBI’s search for evidence was dramatized in the 1988 movie “Mississippi Burning.”

Killen, a sawmill operator and part-time Baptist minister, has been held in Neshoba County Jail since his conviction. His sentence will be set by Gordon, 73, who has a reputation among attorneys as a strict judge.

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