Opener: Killen Not on Trial for ‘Knowledge' of Crime | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Opener: Killen Not on Trial for ‘Knowledge' of Crime

Well, the jury was finally chosen and opening arguments were heard. There are 12 members of the jury with an additional 5 alternates. The jury consists of 9 white women, 4 white men, 2 black women, and 2 black men. All are between the ages of 30-60.

Opening statements, which could last up to 20 twenty minutes, began immediately after the jurors took their seats. Jim Hood, the Attorney General for the state of Mississippi, spoke for the prosecution and attorney Mitch Moran spoke for the defense.

The prosecution's statement centered around a chronological narrative detailing the events that occurred in that fateful year of 1964. He began the story with the arrival of Rita and Michael, also called Mickey, to Meridian in January of 1964.

Hood went on to show the connection between the Schwerner's civil rights activism and the actions taken by the Klan at the same time. In March, April, and May, Klan meetings were held and they were led by Killen. Killen was a kleagle in the Klan. The kleagle was the central klavern (the most important Klan unit) figure whose job was to recruit the members, instruct them in Klan philosophy and regulations, and lead the first few meetings until the klavern elected its own officers (Cagin & Dray 296). Killen recruited the Lauderdale County klavern and engaged in discussions of Mickey Schwerner in March and April. Killen told his fellow Klan members not to worry about hurting Schwerner because his elimination had already been approved by Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers; thus, Mickey was a marked man whose days were numbered.

The prosecution continued the story by highlighting other events that occurred in May and June, especially the burning of the Mt. Zion Church which supposedly was done to lure Schwerner back to the state. On June 16, the nite the members were beaten and the church was burned, a district Klan meeting had been held in order to approve the Meridian chapter. This meeting was led by Killen, and after the meeting was over some of the men went on to Mt. Zion.

Hood then proceeded to tell the details surrounding Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman's arrest, release, and capture which ultimately led to their murders. Killen not only planned and organized the murders but he told people afterwards how the bodies were disposed of.

The defense started out their statement by challenging the jurors to look at all the evidence. Moran stated, "the Klan's not on trial here"; the state has to prove that Killen intentionally killed 3 civil rights workers.

Although Killen denies any association with the Klan, for the sake of the trial, Killen is assumed to have been a member of the Klan (quite a concession to make if you ask me). According to the defense, Killen's position as a kleagle consisted of being a messenger not a murderer. He was not there that night and he was not the one that called the shots. Assume Killen was a member of the Klan along with many other people in Neshoba county. Being a member of an organization, whether others agree with that particular organization or not, was Killen's constitutional right. Killen was a bystander in the same organization as many others were at the same place and the same time. Who orchestrated this crime? According to the defense, Sam Bowers made the call not Killen, and we cannot hold him accountable for something he did not plan or orchestrate. In previous transcripts and accounts Killen is quoted as telling people that some civil rights guys were in jail who needed their butts kicked. Moran pointed out the fact that Killen was never quoted as saying the word "kill" in reference to those men.

Moran went on to say that he has been in the South long enough to know that in the past, the Sheriff of a town pretty much ran the town, and there is no way in hell that a nobody like Edgar Ray Killen would have been able to tell Sheriff Rainey what to do.

The defense reiterated the point that Klan is not on trial and neither is being a member of the Klan. The central issue to the trial is if Edgar Ray Killen did actually plan the murders of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman. He is not on trial for the knowledge of the crime but for being the perpetrator.

And finally…
The defense filed a motion to enjoin the state from using transcripts of the 1967 trial and also any photos of the victims. McIntyre filed the motion late and was scolded by the judge. Ultimately, Judge Gordon decided to hear the motion since a man's life is on the line in this trial. The motion will be heard tomorrow morning at 8 a

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