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Defense opens in civil rights era murder trial

Prosecutor seeks lesser manslaughter charge


YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS

Andrew Goodman
Mississippi
Civil Rights

PHILADELPHIA, Mississippi (CNN) -- The defense called three witnesses Saturday in the murder trial of Edgar Ray Killen, the reputed Klansman charged with killing three civil rights workers 41 years ago.

The case inspired the 1988 movie "Mississippi Burning."

Two of Killen's siblings and a minister testified Saturday morning, before the court recessed for the remainder of the weekend.

The defense is expected to call its final witness Monday morning, when court is to resume.

Also Monday, the judge will rule on a motion that the jury be allowed to consider the lesser charge of felony manslaughter in the case, the prosecution told reporters.

Closing arguments are expected to take place next week.

Earlier Saturday, the prosecution rested after 82-year-old Fannie Lee Chaney gave emotional testimony about the death of her son, James Chaney.

The 21-year-old African-American from Mississippi had joined Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24, on the black voter registration campaign in the South known as "Freedom Summer."

Goodman and Michael were white New Yorkers.

Their lives came to an end June 21, 1964, when they were ambushed by a Ku Klux Klan mob. FBI agents found their bodies under 15 feet of dirt in an earthen dam more than a month later.

Chaney's mother testified that after his killing, death threats to her family and an inability to get a job forced her from Mississippi. It "wouldn't be long before I was put in a hole like James was," she said.

The defense did not cross-examine her.

Killen, who is 80 years old, attends court proceedings in a wheelchair because he broke his legs in an accident.

His attorneys have repeatedly argued he is not well enough to stand trial. On Thursday, the first day of testimony, he was taken to a hospital and treated overnight.

His attorney Mitch Moran has said that while Killen might have known about the slayings, he neither planned them nor carried them out.

That contradicts testimony Friday by retired police officer Mike Hatcher who said that Killen met with him the day after the killings and bragged, "We got rid of those civil rights workers."

Hatcher is a self-described former Ku Klux Klansman who was with the Meridian Police Department for 20 years.

In 1967 an all-white jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of convicting Killen. The lone holdout said she could not vote to convict a preacher.

Seven other men were convicted of conspiring to violate the civil rights of the victims; none served more than six years in prison.

CNN's Catherine Callaway contributed to this report.

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