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Edgar Ray Killen Says God Will Get You (If You Helped Put Him Away)

[I'm honored to have collaborated with Jerry Mitchell on this article appearing on page 1 of today's Jackson Clarion-Ledger. —BG]

Killen claims God is on his side

Lawsuit filed last week alleges civil rights violations

Jerry Mitchell and Ben Greenberg
The Clarion-Ledger
March 1, 2010

Convicted Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen says there wasn’t enough legal evidence to imprison him for the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers and that God is going to get whoever helped put him away.

Those written remarks are among the most recent public stirrings from Killen, who also filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the FBI, alleging his civil rights were violated.

“Almighty God … is listening and is recording your acts, thoughts and deeds. One by one you will give account to him,” Killen wrote in a six-page letter obtained by The Clarion-Ledger from a Klansman. His lawyer confirmed the letter is indeed Killen’s.

District Attorney Mark Duncan, who along with Attorney General Jim Hood prosecuted Killen, responded, “I don’t have any trouble standing before God with my role in it.”

In 2005, a Neshoba County jury convicted Killen, now 85, on three counts of manslaughter for his role in the Klan’s June 21, 1964, killings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, commonly known as the Mississippi Burning case.

The FBI is now reexamining the killings. Four suspects are still alive in the case.

In his letter, Killen lambasted prosecutors and Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon, who sentenced Killen to the maximum 60 years in prison. Killen, a former Union sawmill operator and part-time preacher, is serving his time in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County.

Killen blamed the press and the people of Neshoba County. “You had all the news media that helped indict me for murder on three counts, which you had no legal evidence,” he wrote. “All your grand jury heard was slick tongue talk from a couple of politicians.”

Sally Beam, one of those grand jurors, said that’s not correct.

All the evidence led back to Killen, she said. “We were not out to get him, but he was the one every order went out from. The fact he’s still trying to blame somebody else just tells me his heart is still not in the right place.

“He’s still trying to cover up what needs to be exposed. If I were Edgar Ray Killen, I’d be thinking about my maker and where I’m going to be when I die. He’s a preacher. He knows about heaven and hell.”

Killen says mobster Gregory Scarpa Sr., pistol whipped “testimony” from from Clayton Lewis, a defense attorney in the 1967 federal conspiracy trial of suspects in the civil rights workers’ slayings..

The nearly 40,000 pages of FBI files in the Mississippi Burning case obtained by The Clarion-Ledger do not appear to mention Scarpa or list his informant number. Some other FBI records refer to Scarpa being brought in to help crack the Klan’s 1966 killing of Vernon Dahmer.

Killen said the FBI paid Scarpa $30,000 in reward money — an allegation FBI agents have disputed.

Retired FBI agent Jay Cochran said the reward money was delivered to Mississippi Highway Patrolman Maynard King, who told the FBI where the bodies were buried. Cochran said King was passing the $30,000 on to the person who informed King.

Philip Dray, co-author of We Are Not Afraid: The Story of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney, and the Civil Rights Campaign for Mississippi, said he’s not surprised Killen invoked God’s name since the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi often did that.

Killen said God knows what he did and that he is at peace with God, but Dray noted Killen never actually said he was innocent. “Convicted Klansmen have a special problem with justice,” he said. “Their ‘crimes’ were, in their minds, righteous. They were aimed at specific targets — meddlesome Yankees.”

In Killen’s mind, he said, “It will always be 1865.”

In the letter, Killen says he read many hidden Justice Department files. “I only read those of interest, as I was not hired and I was not a pimp, but I had security clearance, so I read and obtained straight evidence,” he says. “I am not putting some names in this letter as some are still living and believe it or not I am not a betrayer of anyone, especially my friends.”

Exactly who he refuses to betray he didn’t say.

Larry Ellis, a former inmate who has been interviewed by the FBI, said some of what the letter says mirrors much of what Killen told him behind bars.

Ellis told the FBI that Killen said he had access to these files because of his relationship with then-U.S. Sen. Jim Eastland and “did jobs” for Eastland around the country.

Killen said in his letter he had traveled to “most major cities in America.”

On those trips, he said he bragged about his hometown, his home county and his home state. Now, he said, he wants to retrace those steps and apologize.

The Clarion-Ledger obtained the letter from Cole Thornton, Imperial Wizard of the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, who attended Killen’s 2005 trial. Thornton said Killen authorized him to release the letter and shared a note that expert Thomas Vastrick of Memphis identified as Killen’s handwriting.

Thornton, whose real name is Charles Denton, said he wants to see “the scoundrels who railroaded this fine man pay up for their deceit.”

In his lawsuit in which he seeks millions of dollars, Killen is demanding all of the federal files in the case.

Hood responded that his office has given Killen’s lawyer “every document we have in our files. The federal prosecutors assured me that they gave us all of the documents in the possession of the federal government.”

Killen remains filled with venom, Hood said. “Hate will eat up a person’s soul. As with all criminals I have had to prosecute, I still hold out hope that their souls will be redeemed.”

Killen has repeatedly referred to the three victims as communists — something the victims’ families say isn’t true.

Ben Chaney, whose brother James was among the victims, said after reading Killen’s letter, “I sort of feel bad for Mr. Killen because he’s losing. The fact is he refuses to look at reality.”

Killen needs to come clean, he said. “God knows what he did, and he knows he did something contrary to what God wants. The truth will set him free.”


Download the letter we obtained from Edgar Ray Killen (PDF)

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • C.W. Roberson March 3, 2010, 4:20 pm

    Great work, Ben. I continue to be so impressed with you and your activism!

  • Ben March 3, 2010, 9:34 pm

    Thanks, CW! I hope all is well with you.

  • Micki Dickoff March 4, 2010, 5:30 pm

    Great job, Ben. Obviously, we still have work to do!

  • mickidickoff March 12, 2010, 3:55 pm

    Hi Ben,

    I want to let you know that NESHOBA: The Price of Freedom is screening at the 13th annual Doc Kountz Film Festival in Medford, MA at Tufts University on Saturday, March 27th at 4 pm. Please spread the word through all your social networks and your friends in the Boston area. There's a Q&A after the film and this latest from Killen will make for a good discussion. If you can come, I'd love to give you a hug!

    My best to you…

  • Daniel May 25, 2010, 5:00 am

    Hopefully the truth will come out in the next trial and Mr. Killen will finally be freed and allowed to return home to his wife where he belongs. God Bless you Edgar Ray Killen!!

  • Daddo June 23, 2010, 12:58 pm

    I'm very impressed with the continuing reporting on this vital story. However, I remain concerned about the final point, and the comments from the victims' families. Does whether or not they were Communists matter? Does their believing in true equality for all people make it OK to murder them? Take a look into the Greensboro Massacre, where 5 civil rights martyrs have been left completely without justice for large reason because of this labeling and the sick McCarthyism our nation still suffers from. Whether or not these heroic young men were Communists, Socialists, Republicans or in the Barking Spider Party. If you look back into the 20s and 30s, it was Socialists and Communists who took a stand for equality in this country when NOBODY else would. And this same red-baiting, along with homophobia, that destroyed the life of one of our greatest civil rights leaders, Bayard Rustin. I'd hope that we NOT allow the sick fear and hate of socialism and communism that obviously poisoned the mind of the Klansmen who committed these awful murders to bleed over into the minds of decent people.

  • Ben June 23, 2010, 1:42 pm

    Thanks for your comments. I agree with every one of your points. Upon reflection, I think it was a mistake for us to report the last part of the story the way that we did. I actually think that the victims' families would agree with your concerns. We should have come up with a better way to report on the anti-communist allegations without falling into the trap of verifying or denying the charges.

  • Jennifer Gale July 1, 2010, 3:25 am

    The truth has already come out. Guilty. Killen is right where he belongs.

  • Rob July 6, 2010, 2:59 pm

    Well the truth is not realy out, I was at the trial and they never proved either way he had anything to do with killing anyone. I dont know how a court can just toss up lesser charges at will I mean when they arrested him he was charged with 3 counts of murder. After they figured out they may not get a conviction on murder they came up with manslauter. I have lived here in Neshoba my whole life and I know Killien was a klansman and more likely than not did have something to do with the killings but we all have a right to a fair trial and he didnt get one. I heard ever bit of the testimony and they proved nothing.

  • Lonnell2 September 10, 2010, 7:14 am

    Edgar Ray Killen is right where he should be today. All racist who murder, rape, spread fear and intimidation should join him. There are many like him, still free and hiding under rocks, whose hands are stained with the blood of the innocent and have blackened souls full of hate who know they are guilty but have temporarily escaped justice. They should realize we all must one day face our creator and be judged for our misdeeds on this earth. The Civil War has long ended, but not their hate and despise of what is right. These men and women who support Edgar Killen belong in the time of Nazi Germany and must be hunted down and tried like the crimianals against humanity they are. The Klan and hate mongers like Killen acted as judge and jury and meted out to their victims their injustice. My heart goes out to the victims as I pray, someday when we all stand before a righteous and just GOD he will dole out to Edgar, the Klan, and other hate mongers their just reward in the very bottom of Hades. We must accept one race is no worse or better than any other, none is more entitled nor superior. America has many enemies today harboring ill will for past injustices when we thought “might was right” and “the American way”. Maybe rogue racists need to learn we must learn to live together or we will have to learn Russian or Chinese without any of us having any freedom. Damn Edgar Ray Killen and his bigoted lackeys who have interrupted so many lives and brought nothing but grief and loss to this nation and its children who hunger for what is right and true!

  • Rickeyevans6 April 15, 2012, 5:50 am

    I was locked up wit edger ray killen and I have writing evidence from him

  • mark November 11, 2013, 9:52 pm

    I agree there is no proof that edgar killin commited those murders

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