Sunday, November 30, 2008

More Convictions Possible In Mississippi Burning Case...

Feds Take Another Look At '64 Case

Jerry Mitchell

phone: (601) 961-7064

The Justice Department again is examining the Ku Klux Klan's 1964 killings of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County, known as the "Mississippi Burning" case.

A department official recently contacted The Clarion-Ledger, asking questions about the 2,802-page transcript of the 1967 U.S. District Court trial that ended in the conviction of Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, then-Deputy Cecil Price and others.

The Justice Department's interest is a change of stance for the department, which previously had omitted the June 21, 1964, killings of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney from its review of more than 100 killings from the civil rights era - despite the fact five suspects are still alive.

Hundreds of FBI agents investigated the trio's disappearances, leading to the grisly discovery of their bodies buried 15 feet beneath an earthen dam. In 1967, 18 men went on trial on federal conspiracy charges, and seven of them were convicted.

But the only murder prosecution took place in 2005 when a Neshoba County jury convicted reputed Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen on three counts of manslaughter. He is serving 60 years in prison.

The Clarion-Ledger revealed the Neshoba County grand jury that indicted Killen came within one vote of indicting another suspect, Billy Wayne Posey, with a deciding vote cast by a Posey relative. The newspaper also found three potential new witnesses against Posey.

In October, Richard Cohen, president of the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center, urged Justice Department officials to pursue a case against Posey, if possible.

"Justice in some of these cases is going to have to serve as a symbol for all the cases," Cohen said. "Perhaps the most notorious case is the Mississippi Burning case."

Called for comment, Posey's wife answered and remarked, "He wouldn't be interested in talking to you."

This past summer, civil rights activists gathered outside courthouses in Meridian and Philadelphia, holding signs, one of which read, "Killen did not act alone. He shouldn't be in jail alone."

Earlier this month, Chaney's brother, Ben, and others met in Washington with Justice Department officials, asking them to pursue the case against the living suspects: Posey and Pete Harris, both of Meridian; Olen Burrage of Philadelphia; former Philadelphia police officer Richard Willis of Noxapater; and Jimmie Snowden of Hickory.

Any evidence FBI agents develop likely would have to be presented to a Mississippi grand jury for a murder prosecution because the statute of limitations appears to have run out on possible federal crimes.

Alvin Sykes, architect of legislation aimed at prosecution of unpunished killings from the civil rights era, said he suggested at the meeting that Justice Department officials follow the example of what was done in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, where federal prosecutors were deputized and successfully prosecuted two reputed Klansmen on state murder charges.

In his initial statement to state investigators on April 5, 2000, Posey insisted he didn't take part in the killings of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney and had gone to federal prison for several years for something he didn't do.

Posey told investigators there were "a lot of persons involved in the murders that did not go to jail."

He would not name those people.

Two months later, his story changed. Admitting his involvement in the killings, he told Mississippi authorities he contacted Killen, who helped orchestrate the trio's killings.

Posey also said he was among those who pursued the trio that night, was there when they were killed and helped haul their bodies to the dam to bury them.

State prosecutors can't use Posey's statement because they agreed not to.

In a new documentary, Neshoba, which focuses on events leading to Killen's conviction, Killen's wife, Jo, is quoted as saying, "I feel like Billy Wayne Posey was there, and I feel like he was more responsible than Edgar Ray was."

Although Posey denied being a member of the Klan, his own brother, Richard, suggested otherwise in the documentary, expected to be shown in Mississippi next year.

"Ninety percent of the people in Neshoba County, Mississippi, were Klansmen," Posey's brother told filmmakers. "Hell, I was in there. A man keeps coming to your house, sticking (his) nose in your damn business, (he's) going to get it chopped off sooner or later.

"And that's what they did down here. They kept on agitatin' and agitatin'. They were warned to get the hell out. They didn't do it, so they wound up out there in the earthen dam. Damn good place for 'em."

See Also On W.E. A.L.L. B.E.:

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W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio Special: February 18, 2007~"We Shall Overcome"-The Henry Hampton Collection (Creator of the Award Winning Eyes On The Prize Documentary)

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