Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Thursday, June 30, 2005  

Law: Killen begins 60-year sentence

I believe killer Edgar Ray Killen, 80, will spend the rest of his long life in prison. Killen was sentenced to three 20-year terms for orchestrating a plot to take the lives of three young men in the "Mississippi Burning" case four decades ago. Though his attorneys are blustering about success on appeal, I do not expect they will succeed. Killen has now officially entered the prison system, which should have become his home a long time ago.

The Neshoba Democrat reports.

Former Ku Klux Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen was transported to the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility this morning shortly after a circuit court judge denied his request for a new trial in the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers.

Killen, convicted last week on three counts of manslaughter, is expected to undergo a series of medical and psychological evaluations there to determine his prison classification.

Correctional officials will then determine if Killen should serve out his 60-year sentence at the Rankin facility or at Parchman.

A jury convicted Killen on June 21 of manslaughter in connection with the deaths of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman. The three had come to Neshoba County to investigate the burning of Mt. Zion Methodist Church and the beating of several of its members.

Killen entered the Neshoba County courthouse shortly before 9 a.m. today in a yellow prison suit, smiling and waving to family members. His wife went up and kissed him on the forehead and the couple chatted briefly with defense attorney James McIntyre before court came to order.

In asking the judge for a new trial, McIntyre said the defense did “not come to court prepared for a manslaughter trial.”

He questioned the instruction which allowed the jury the manslaughter choice as opposed to murder or acquittal.

The defense's claim that including manslaughter in jury instructions was an error is not supported by precedent. Mississippi courts treat lesser included offenses are part of a major offense. Both second-degree murder and manslaughter instructions are proper in a first-degree murder case.

Either party gets the instruction on request, if supported by the evidence, and the same is true for "simple" murder as a lesser included offense of capital murder. See Harveston v. State, 493 So. 2d 365, 374-375 (Miss. 1986).

Either side was free to request manslaughter instructions at any time prior to sending the jury to deliberate. The evidence offered in the case was sufficient for jurors to decide either offense had occurred. The main element that distinguishes homicide from manslaughter -- intent to kill -- is the reason the jurors chose to convict Killen of the lesser included charge. Despite proof that Killen planned the assaults, including having graves dug, the jury seems to have been swayed by lack of proof he was on the scene when the killings occurred. The defense's efforts to refute the evidence were applicable to both homicide and its lesser included offenses.

A poster at a Mississippi newspaper message board asked if Killen intended to escape justice by requesting an appeal bond. If he is released while the case is appealed, the elderly convict could die before a decision is reached. I believe that a request for an appeal bond for Killen will be denied. He was previously convicted of threatening to kill a woman in the 1970s, so he has a prior felony offense. In addition, Killen has shown no remorse in regard to his conduct, telling a black jailer that he would consider killing him as recently as last week.

posted by J. | 11:30 AM