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Judge sends ex-klan leader back to prison

By wire services
Published September 10, 2005

PHILADELPHIA, Miss. - A judge sent Edgar Ray Killen back to prison Friday after finding that the former Ku Klux Klan leader, convicted for the 1964 slayings of three civil rights workers, was in better health than the court had been told.

Four law enforcement officers and a convenience store owner testified they had seen Killen driving during the past two weeks. But at an August court hearing, the 80-year-old sawmill owner and preacher had testified he was in constant pain and confined to a wheelchair.

Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon decided to revoke the $600,000 bail that had allowed Killen to remain free while appealing his manslaughter convictions. He spent 53 days in prison, in between his June conviction and being released on bail Aug. 12.

Gordon - who presided over Killen's trial and set the appeal bail - said he couldn't understand how Killen could have limited use of his legs and right arm one week, and be able to drive two weeks later.

"That's incredible to me. I feel fraud was committed on the court," Gordon said.

"Without the testimony of the defendant's poor physical condition," Marcus' written order said, "the court finds that the defendant has failed to show by clear and convincing evidence that he is not a danger to the community."

Department of Corrections Commission Chris Epps said Killen would be taken back to the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, a minimum security prison where he would have his own cell and be under administrative protective custody.

Killen broke both legs during a tree-cutting accident in March. At his trial in June, he sat in a wheelchair and appeared to doze off several times.

Many civic leaders in Mississippi had been dismayed when the judge granted bail to Killen, raising the possibility that he would die a free man after serving barely six weeks of his sentence.

During Friday's hearing, Killen used his left hand to hoist his right to take his oath before testifying. Killen told Gordon he was losing use of his right hand while in prison.

Killen's wife, Betty Jo, told the court Friday her husband could not walk or go to the bathroom without help. She said he could stand briefly if he had support.

Winston County sheriff's deputy Connie Hampton testified he saw Killen getting gas at a Conoco station Aug. 31 and drove around Killen's truck to verify it was him.

Three Neshoba County deputies testified they also saw Killen driving, and two said they saw Killen drive through a Labor Day roadblock.

Defense attorney James McIntyre said an appeal of the bail revocation is likely. Killen, a brother and others had put up Neshoba County property to secure the $600,000 bail.

Assistant Attorney General Lee Martin told the judge that Killen's "condition is much better than what was portrayed to this court." He said Killen's mobility made him more of a flight risk.

Killen was convicted of manslaughter for masterminding the June 21, 1964, slayings of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who were killed while working in Mississippi to register blacks to vote. Gordon sentenced Killen to 60 years in prison.

The federal government tried 18 men for conspiracy to deprive the three men of their civil rights. Seven were convicted, but in Killen's case the jury deadlocked, with 11 in favor of conviction and one holdout who said she could not convict Killen because he was a preacher.

The jury declined to convict him on murder charges but were offered the option of manslaughter at the request of the prosecutors.

Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.

[Last modified September 10, 2005, 01:24:05]

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