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New Evidence to Act on in 1964 Klan Murder of James Chaney

X-rays reveal that two bullets were not removed from James Chaney's body during the autopsy after he, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were murdered by a gang of Klansmen in Neshoba County, MS, June 21 1964. James Chaney's brother Ben has told the Clarion Ledger's Jerry Mitchell that the Chaney family will allow the body to be exhumed to allow investigators to try matching the bullets to a murder weapon.

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."

This evidence first came to light in 2005, when Baden and pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne were studying the X-rays and other evidence for the 2005 prosecution of Edgar Ray Killen---the Klansman who was convicted that year on manslaughter charges for his role in orchestrating the killings of the three civil rights workers.

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."...

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.

Why weren't the pathologists called to the stand in 2005? Roberts is dead but, as noted in the article sidebar, four suspects are still living:

  • Olen Burrage of Philadelphia
  • Pete Harris of Meridian
  • former Philadelphia police officer Richard Willis of Noxapater
  • Jimmie Snowden of Hickory

In 2005, there were as many as 9 other living suspects. Not knowing all that was involved in accomplishing a successful prosecution of Edgar Ray Killen, I allow there may have been reason to limit testimony once the defense agreed to the facts in the case. But without more information important questions linger, pointing to possible cover-ups.

Ben Chaney has said that when pursuing the indictment of Edgar Ray Killen in 2005,

the District Attorney did not vigorously in the grand jury proceedings pursue the indictments against ... the remaining people that participated in this crime.

After the Killen trial the prosecutors misrepresented crucial facts in the case. Prosecutors ambitious to right four decades of denied justice should have viewed the trial as an important discovery tool for bringing new evidence to light. Instead, new evidence has remained hidden four and a half years while suspects have been dying off.

Justice and the truth require swift, efficient and determined action. When it comes to these decades old cold cases, there is no time for selective disclosures of evidence.The Justice Department and the state of Mississippi must pursue this evidence without delay.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Michael M. November 23, 2009, 8:57 pm
  • Ben December 8, 2009, 2:25 am


  • william david johnson December 8, 2009, 2:18 am

    i was at the edgar ray killen trial in 2005 , there was no talk of guns and bullets to put mr. killens away.by the way they did not have evidence to put him away. i wish they would show the whole flim of what really took black. in the edgar ray killen trial. it would show that it was a very unfair trial.and not the trial that all these people make it out to be, o by the way what about all you black people that kept lining up and waitting to beat on mr. killen every time they would try to wheel him in with is wheel chair. the judge ask jim hood do you want to go through the evidence file totry to find evidence . mr. hood said no way was he going through 2500 pages of evidence it would take to long. i was there it was a paid off trial.to put mr. killens away. i have talk with many people to get evidence myself. i was told by many people that knew the truth. i was told that what ever took place it had nothing to do with votting, but instead the rapeing of white woman.

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