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Three Civil Rights Martyrs Tombstone Monument @ Mt. Nebo Church in Philadelphia, Ms.
Bullets Buried With Civil Rights Worker Might ID Weapons That Killed Him
By Jerry Mitchell
The Clarion Ledger
November 22, 2009
Exhuming James Chaney's body could help identify others involved in the Ku Klux Klan's 1964 killings of Chaney and two other civil rights workers, a world-renowned forensic pathologist says.
That's because X-rays show two bullets were never removed from Chaney, said Dr. Michael Baden of New York City. "They're still in his body, and they could be matched to the weapons that did it."
The FBI contacted Baden last week about his findings.
Chaney's brother, Ben, said he and his family support an exhumation. "If they (FBI agents) want to take the bullets from my brother, we'll do that," he said. "Whatever they need."
FBI officials say they cannot comment on the ongoing investigation into the June 21, 1964, killings of Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.
Edgar Ray Killen, now serving 60 years in prison, is appealing his 2005 manslaughter conviction, disputing testimony that he recruited Klansmen and orchestrated the trio's killings that night.
The FBI identified more than 20 Klansmen in the crime, but Killen is the only one who has ever been prosecuted for murder. Four suspects are still alive.
Baden discovered the remaining bullets in Chaney's body while he and Dr. Steven Hayne of Brandon were studying the X-rays, autopsy reports, testimony, photographs and FBI reports for Killen's 2005 prosecution. After the defense agreed to the facts, prosecutors didn't call the two forensic pathologists as witnesses.
Baden said he decided to request the exhumation after hearing the FBI was now reinvestigating the trio's killings.
No murder weapons were ever found in the trio's killings, but former inmate Larry Ellis, who had a prison cell next to Killen in 2007, recently told FBI agents that Killen talked of a murder weapon being buried on his property. Killen, who was a part-time preacher, lived in Union.
If a gun was recovered, it still could be tested to see if it fired the fatal bullets into Chaney, Baden said. "And there might still be DNA and fingerprints on the weapon."
Exhumations have taken place during the reinvestigations of a number of killings from the civil rights era.
In 1991, the body of Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers was exhumed from Arlington National Cemetery. Baden performed the second autopsy, later testifying that Evers had been killed by a high-powered weapon such as a rifle.
In 1994, a jury convicted Byron De La Beckwith of Evers' murder, concluding Beckwith shot Evers in the back with a .30-06 rifle on June 12, 1963, outside his Jackson home.
An exhumation also took place in 2005 in the Justice Department's renewed investigation into the 1955 slaying of Emmett Till, whose death helped fuel the civil rights movement.
Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam admitted they abducted Till but denied they killed him. Their lawyers argued in the 1955 trial that the body found wasn't Till's, and jury members cited that claim in acquitting the pair, who months later confessed to the killing to Look magazine.
The 2005 autopsy confirmed through DNA that the body was indeed Till's.
On June 21, 1964, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner traveled to Neshoba County to investigate the Klan's burning of the Mount Zion Methodist Church as well as the beatings of members.
Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price arrested the trio and hauled them to the Neshoba County Jail, where they were held for about eight hours before being released after 10 p.m. into the hands of waiting Klansmen.
According to a confession by Horace Doyle Barnette, Klansman Alton Wayne Roberts grabbed Schwerner, 24, and shot him once, then grabbed Goodman, 20, and shot him once. Jordan then joined Roberts - and perhaps others - in shooting Chaney, 21, to death.
Ballistics confirmed that bullets removed from all three bodies came from two different .38-caliber pistols.
Dr. William Featherston of Jackson did the original autopsy and removed three bullets from Chaney's back, head and chest, but Baden said X-rays show two other bullets struck Chaney in his arms and never have been removed. Those bullets, he said, could be tested.
Alvin Sykes, architect of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, said an exhumation could help bring truth and justice.
"If the removal of these two bullets from Chaney's body could help develop evidence against even one of the murderers," he said, "then the Justice Department and the state of Mississippi need to move on this - with quickness - right now."
Four suspects in the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers are still alive:
Olen Burrage of Philadelphia, Pete Harris of Meridian, former Philadelphia police officer Richard Willis of Noxapater and Jimmie Snowden of Hickory.
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