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Mississippi Burning KKK leader dies in prison at 92
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Mississippi Burning KKK leader dies in prison at 92
Edgar Ray Killen has died in prison at the age of 92, the state's corrections department announced Friday

Edgar Ray Killen has died in prison at the age of 92, the state's corrections department announced Friday

The 1960s Ku Klux Klan leader convicted decades later in the 'Mississippi Burning' slayings of three civil rights workers died in prison Thursday night at the age of 92. 

Edgar Ray Killen was serving three consecutive 20-year terms for manslaughter when he died 9pm Thursday inside the Mississippi State Penitentiary.  

An autopsy was pending, but no foul play was suspected, a state corrections department 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 when a deputy sheriff arrested them on a traffic charge. 

Killen was serving three consecutive 20-year terms for manslaughter in the killings of civil rights workers (left to right) Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman 

Killen was serving three consecutive 20-year terms for manslaughter in the killings of civil rights workers (left to right) Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman 

Killen's conviction in 2005 came 41 years to the day after the murder of the three men An autopsy was pending in Killen's death, but no foul play was suspected, the corrections' statement said

Killen's conviction in 2005 came 41 years to the day after the murder of the three men. He is pictured left in an undated mug shot, and right in court in 2005

They were then released after the sheriff alerted a mob of Klansmen.

Mississippi's then-governor claimed their disappearance was a hoax before their bodies were dug up.

The slayings, which were dramatized in the 1988 movie 'Mississippi Burning,' shocked the nation and helped spur passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Killen, a 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.

He 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.

'His life spanned a period in this country where members of the Ku Klux Klan like him were able to believe they had a right to take other people's lives, and that's a form of terrorism,' Goodman said. 

'Many took black lives without impunity.'

Goodman said Killen's passing is a reminder that issues of racism and white nationalism remain today. He pointed to the violent rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia as an example.

The slayings, which were dramatized in the 1988 movie 'Mississippi Burning,' shocked the nation and helped spur passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Pictured are members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party holding sketches of the slain workers in August 1964

The slayings, which were dramatized in the 1988 movie 'Mississippi Burning,' shocked the nation and helped spur passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Pictured are members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party holding sketches of the slain workers in August 1964

The three Freedom Summer workers had been investigating the burning of a black church near Philadelphia, Mississippi when a deputy sheriff arrested them on a traffic charge. They were then released after alerting the sheriff alerted a mob of Klansmen, who hunted them down and killed them 

The three Freedom Summer workers had been investigating the burning of a black church near Philadelphia, Mississippi when a deputy sheriff arrested them on a traffic charge. They were then released after alerting the sheriff alerted a mob of Klansmen, who hunted them down and killed them 

According to the indictment, after Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner were attacked by a mov of roughly 19 Klansmen, who were all organized by Killen. Pictured above investigators uncover the workers' remains

According to the indictment, after Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner were attacked by a mov of roughly 19 Klansmen, who were all organized by Killen. Pictured above investigators uncover the workers' remains

During his state trial in 2005, witnesses testified that on June 21, 1964, Killen went to Meridian to round up carloads of Klansmen to ambush Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, and told some of the Klan members to bring plastic or rubber gloves. Pictured are the workers bodies after they were brutally murdered in 1964

During his state trial in 2005, witnesses testified that on June 21, 1964, Killen went to Meridian to round up carloads of Klansmen to ambush Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, and told some of the Klan members to bring plastic or rubber gloves. Pictured are the workers bodies after they were brutally murdered in 1964

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.

FBI files and court transcripts from a 1967 federal conspiracy trial reveal that Killen did most of the planning in the ambush killings of the three civil rights workers. 

According to testimony in the 2005 murder trial, Killen served as a kleagle, or organizer, of the Klan in Neshoba County and helped set up a klavern, or local Klan group, in a nearby county.

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

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

Rita Schwermer Bender (right), widow of Michael Schwerner, and Barbara Chaney Dailey, the sister of James Chaney, are pictured leaving the memorial service for Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner in 2005

Rita Schwermer Bender (right), widow of Michael Schwerner, and Barbara Chaney Dailey, the sister of James Chaney, are pictured leaving the memorial service for Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner in 2005

Nineteen men, including Killen, were indicted on federal charges in the 1967 case. Seven were convicted of violating the victims' civil rights. None served more than six years.

Killen's federal case ended with a hung jury after one juror said she couldn't convict a preacher. 

During his state trial in 2005, witnesses testified that on June 21, 1964, Killen went to Meridian to round up carloads of Klansmen to ambush Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, and told some of the Klan members to bring plastic or rubber gloves.

Witnesses said Killen then went to a Philadelphia funeral home as an alibi while the fatal attack occurred.

The three bodies were found 44 days later, buried in a red-clay dam in rural Neshoba County.

In February 2010, Killen sued the FBI, claiming the government used a mafia hit man to pistol-whip and intimidate witnesses for information in the case. The federal lawsuit sought millions of dollars in damages and a declaration that his rights were violated when the FBI allegedly used a gangster known as 'The Grim Reaper' during the investigation. The lawsuit was later dismissed.

In the AP interview, Killen repeated his contention that he was not a criminal, but a political prisoner. Of one thing he was certain: 'I could have beat that thing if I'd had the mental ability.'

When she learned of Killen's death, Chaney's sister, the Rev. Julia Chaney Moss, said her first thought was that 'God has been kind to him. And for that I am grateful.'

'My last thought on this is just that I only wish peace and blessings for all the families as well as the families of the perpetrators,' she added.