Former Klansman Edgar Ray Killen seeks OK from Supreme Court for new trial in 1964 slayings

October 18, 2013 in News, Statewide News, Top Stories

In this frame grab taken from video and provided by COURTTV.COM, Edgar Ray Killen sits in court as the verdict is read in Philadelphia, Miss. Tuesday June 21, 2005. Forty-one years to the day after three civil rights workers were beaten and shot to death, Killen, an 80-year-old former Ku Klux Klansman was found guilty of manslaughter in a trial that marked Mississippi's latest attempt to atone for its bloodstained, racist past. (AP Photo/COURTTV.COM)

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court is considering arguments from a former Ku Klux Klansman convicted in the 1964 slayings of three civil rights workers.

Edgar Ray Killen says he was denied constitutional rights in his Mississippi trial.

Killen made the same arguments to a federal judge in Mississippi in 2012 and before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans earlier this year. He lost in both courts.

State prosecutors had until the close of business Tuesday to respond to Killen’s petition before the Supreme Court. Killen’s attorney could offer a response to prosecutors’ comments before the court rules.

The Mississippi attorney general’s office and Killen’s attorney, Robert A. Ratliff of Mobile, Ala., did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Killen was convicted of manslaughter in 2005, 41 years after the deaths of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney. He is serving 60 years in prison.

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 argues several constitutional rights violations including the 41-year delay between the trio’s deaths and his indictment, variances between the charges in the indictment and the jury’s verdict and prosecutors’ failure to turn over evidence that could prove his innocence.

U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate in Jackson, Miss., and the 5th Circuit both ruled Killen failed to make “a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right” that would persuade a court to grant him a new trial on those issues.