A former Klansman who was sentenced in 2005 to 60 years in prison for his role in the 1964 plot to abduct and kill three young civil rights workers during the Freedom Summer drive to register black voters died Thursday in a prison in Parchman, Miss. He was 92.
The Mississippi Department of Corrections said that Edgar Ray Killen died in the hospital at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at 9 p.m., the New York Times reports. While no official cause of death has been given, the Corrections Department said that Killen had been treated for congestive heart failure and high blood pressure.
On June 21, 1964, James Earl Chaney—a 21-year-old black man from Meridian, Miss.—was traveling with Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24, two white men from New York, when they were caught in a death trap set by a local deputy sheriff and some of his fellow Ku Klux Klan members.
The three young men were shot to death that night and buried under an earthen dam on a farm near Philadelphia, Miss. Their bodies were discovered six weeks later by the FBI.
Their deaths and the subsequent investigation into their disappearance were the inspiration for the 1988 film Mississippi Burning.
Killen, who was a founding member of the KKK in the Philadelphia area and its chief recruiter, is said to have recruited the mob that killed the three young civil rights workers.
While he was not present at the murder, he was among the 18 men tried in 1967 on federal charges of conspiring to violate the civil rights of the three young men.
The charges against Killen were dismissed when one of the members of the all-white jury held out for an acquittal because she did not believe that a man of God could have participated in such a crime.
As Southern states began revisiting atrocities of the civil rights era, Killen was indicted on murder charges in January 2005. He was convicted on state manslaughter charges 41 years to the day that Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were killed.
The 2005 jury, which consisted of nine whites and three blacks, concluded that there was not enough evidence to prove that Killen knew the civil rights workers would be killed when they were kidnapped, so it decided on manslaughter instead.
Killen was sentenced to three consecutive 20-year terms, the maximum for each charge of manslaughter.
Killen was born Jan. 17, 1925, in the area of Union, Miss., not far from where the three civil rights workers were murdered.
Read more at the New York Times.