Billy Wayne Posey, a key suspect in the Ku Klux Klan's killings of three civil rights workers in 1964 in Mississippi, has died, but Justice Department officials say they're continuing their investigation of the remaining suspects.
The 73-year-old Posey died Thursday of natural causes, according to friends. That leaves four living suspects in the June 21, 1964, killings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in the Justice Department's investigation....
Goodman's brother, David, of New York City, said Friday that he hopes the Justice Department will continue to pursue the matter. "This is still the country of law and order, and the laws are clear," he said. "There is no statute of limitations on murder."
Time is passing by, he said, "but I never rejoice over a person's passing. I've never felt any animosity toward the specific individuals who murdered my brother. They just pulled the trigger."
In the summer of 1964, hundreds of FBI agents investigated the trio's disappearance, 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.
Civil rights activists repeatedly have called for the prosecution of others besides Killen.
Posey came within one vote of being indicted by that same Neshoba County grand jury that indicted Killen, with a deciding vote against indictment cast by his relative. In a 2007 series, "Buried Secrets," The Clarion-Ledger revealed three potential new witnesses against Posey.
In a 2000 statement, Posey told investigators there were "a lot of persons involved in the murders that did not go to jail."
He did not name those people.
Posey admittedly 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.
But the statement could never be used against Posey in state court because he was given immunity.
Then-Neshoba County Deputy Cecil Price told authorities prior to his 2001 death that he told Posey in 1964 he had just jailed the three civil rights workers and asked Posey to get in contact with Killen, who helped to orchestrate the killings.
In 1967, Posey was one of the seven men who was convicted of conspiracy to deprive Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner of their civil rights. Though his admission of taking part in the Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner murders could not be used as evidence, state and federal charges were still possible.
[W]hat Posey said wouldn't be barred from federal court if federal authorities could pursue a case, said former state and federal prosecutor Patricia Bennett, a professor at Mississippi College School of Law. "And even if there was a state prosecution, authorities may be able to develop other evidence and not use that particular statement."
Federal and state prosecutors still have the opportunity to pursue further justice in the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.
Earlier this year, Chaney's brother, Ben, 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.
I spoke with Ben Chaney in 2007, two days after he buried his mother, Fannie Lee Chaney, next to her murdered son, James. Ben Chaney said:
My mother grew up in the time and period of Mississippi where it was believed that the death the murder of a black man by a white man would never be prosecuted. She had a great uncle lynched. When she was child she watched she saw a black male hanging from a tree who was lynched. When she was bout 5 or 6 years old she saw this. In her time of growing up it was just natural.... You could kill a black man if you were white and get away with it.
And unfortunately she took that to her grave....
This should have been over 40 years ago. Most definitely it should have been over with 1989, and without a doubt it should have been over in 2005. Everybody should have been prosecuted in 2005 and it hasn't happened.
It hasn't happened; it needs to happen; time is running out.