JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Edgar Ray Killen, a former Ku Klux Klan leader who was convicted in the 1964 “Mississippi Burning” slayings of three civil rights workers, has died in prison at the age of 92, the state’s corrections department announced Friday.
The one-time Klan leader was serving three consecutive 20-year terms for manslaughter when he died at 9 p.m. Thursday night inside the Mississippi State Penitentiary. An autopsy was pending, but no foul play was suspected, the corrections’ statement said.
His conviction came 41 years to the day after James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, all in their 20s, were ambushed and killed by Klansmen.
The three Freedom Summer workers had been investigating the burning of a black church near Philadelphia, Mississippi. A deputy sheriff in Philadelphia had arrested them on a traffic charge, then released them after alerting a mob. Mississippi’s then-governor claimed their disappearance was a hoax before their bodies were dug up.
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.”
The part-time preacher and lumber mill operator was 80 when a Neshoba County jury convicted him of three counts of manslaughter on June 21, 2005, despite his assertions that he was innocent. Killen was the only person ever to face state murder charges, and the only one to end up in state prison. “It wasn’t even murder it was manslaughter,” David Goodman, Andrew’s younger brother, observed on Friday.
Killen wouldn’t say much about the killings during a 2014 interview with The Associated Press inside the penitentiary. He said he remained a segregationist who did not believe in racial equality, but contended he harbored no ill will toward blacks. Killen said he never had talked about the events that landed him behind bars, and never would.
Long a suspect in the 1964 slayings, Killen had made a livelihood from farming, operating his sawmill and preaching to a small congregation at Smyrna Baptist Church in Union, south of Philadelphia, Mississippi.
According to FBI files and court transcripts from a 1967 federal conspiracy trial, Killen did most of the planning in the ambush killings of the civil rights workers. According to testimony in the 2005 murder trial, Killen served as a…