Trial Highlights | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Trial Highlights

Day 1 – June 13, 2005 – The trial officially got underway with jury selection. About 120 people responded to about 400 summonses. The court reported that the racial makeup roughly reflected the county's demographic. There was brief excitement when Klansman Harper approached Killen to wish him well.

Day 2 – June 14, 2005 – Jury selection continued today.

Day 3 – June 15, 2005 – Jury selection concluded in the morning. Opening arguments began in the afternoon. Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon gave each side only 30 minutes. He did not turn the audio switch to the right setting. The sheriff passed him a note on a yellow legal page saying it wasn't on, but he did not turn it on for the arguments. Thus, they were not broadcast or taped. After the arguments, the judge recessed until 8:30 the next morning to allow jurors to go home before being sequestered.

Day 4 – June 16, 2005 – The prosecutor brought Rita Schwerner Bender on the stand first. She is the widow of Michael Schwerner. Killen voluntarily left the courtroom to visit with his nurse on standby; thus, he did not hear her testimony. In a touching moment, she said that she learned that the station wagon had been found while in the Cincinnati airport, talking with Fannie Lou Hamer. She knew then they were dead, she said. She and Hamer put their arms around each other and cried, "our tears mingling," she said. Shortly after Schwerner left the stand, Killen had to be taken from a courthouse in an ambulance due to high blood pressure. His attorney, James McIntyre, was soon caught by photographers taking a large medical dictionary from the trunk of his car.

Day 5 – June 17, 2005 – A number of "actors" read old Klan informant testimony into the record to establish that Killen was a "kleagle" who planned the murders. A highlight came when the prosecution brought out convict Mike Winstead in a yellow jumpsuit. The man, in prison for rape, remembered that at age 10 he heard Killen tell his father that he had helped kill the three men and was "proud" of it. On cross-examination, Winstead proved a strong witness, saying that he came forward after hearing that lawyer Richard Barrett was trying to bring Killen to the State Fair to sign autographs. This offended him: "People couldn't have a good time." He said he came forward because he has "a son over in Iraq fighting for the same thing these boys were killed for." Also, Andrew Goodman's mother, Carolyn, gave emotional testimony, including reading the last postcard she received from Andy.

Day 6 – June 18, 2005 – The court met, and the prosecution rested with James Chaney's mother, Fannie Lee. The woman stumbled slightly getting off the stand, leading her son Ben to point out that Killen was not the only frail individual in the courtroom (he tended to doze during the testimony). The defense called Killen family members to establish alibi. The judge recessed until Monday after two defense witnesses did not show.

Day 7 – June 20, 2005 – The defense called back former Meridian police officer Mike Hatcher, who reiterated that Killen told him the day after the murders that "we" had killed them and buried them under a dam. Former Neshoba County Mayor Harlan Majure said that the Klan in Neshoba County tended to be "peaceful." After the defense rested, both sides made emotional closing arguments with defense attorney McIntyre arguing that the state was trying to "open old wounds." District Attorney Mark Duncan brought tears to many eyes when he quoted Russell Crowe in "Gladiator:" "What you do in life echoes in eternity."

Day 8 – June 21, 2005 — On the 41st anniversary of the murders, the jury found Killen guilty of three counts of manslaughter. Afterward, Attorney General Hood told the media: "This murder was not sanctioned by God. It was santioned by evil men." The sentencing is scheduled for this Thursday.

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