Miss. killings under review
Feds investigating 1964 murders in Philadelphia
The Ku Klux Klan's killings of three civil rights workers in Mississippi that stunned a nation 45 years ago again are being investigated.
"This case is being actively reviewed by the Civil Rights Division and the FBI," Alejandro Miyar, a spokesman for the division, told The Clarion-Ledger. "Our goal in investigating this case is to lend our assistance to authorities in Mississippi so that they may make a determination whether sufficient evidence exists for a state prosecution."
Five suspects are still alive in the case, including reputed Klansman Billy Wayne Posey, who told Mississippi investigators there were "a lot of persons involved in the murders that did not go to jail."
The news comes as civil rights activists have been taking part in 45th anniversary ceremonies remembering the June 21, 1964, killings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner and calling for justice in that case and others from the civil rights era.
Schwerner's widow, Rita Bender of Seattle, said she hopes federal authorities will lend their assistance not only to this case but also to any other case where enough evidence exists to pursue prosecution. "The clock is ticking," she said. "Time is running out."
Hundreds of FBI agents investigated the trio's disappearance, leading to the discovery of their bodies 44 days later. They had been buried 15 feet beneath an earthen dam.
In 1967, 18 men went on trial on federal conspiracy charges, and seven were convicted.
But the only murder prosecution took place in 2005 when a Neshoba County jury convicted reputed Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen on three counts of manslaughter. The FBI assisted the state's investigation that ended with Killen being sentenced to 60 years in prison.
The Clarion-Ledger has since revealed that the Neshoba County grand jury that indicted Killen came within one vote of also charging Posey, with a deciding vote against indictment cast by a Posey relative. The newspaper also has found three potential new witnesses against Posey.
The Clarion-Ledger has obtained a copy of statements Posey gave state authorities in which he admitted he was among those who pursued the trio that night, was there when they were killed and helped haul their bodies to the dam to bury them.
State prosecutors can't use Posey's statement because they agreed not to.
Neshoba County Deputy Cecil Price told authorities prior to his death that he told Posey in 1964 he had just jailed the three civil rights workers and asked Posey to get in contact with Killen.
In a new documentary, Neshoba, which focuses on events leading to Killen's conviction, Killen's wife, Jo, is quoted as saying, "I feel like Billy Wayne Posey was there, and I feel like he was more responsible than Edgar Ray was."
Although Posey has denied being a member of the Klan, his brother, Richard, said, "Ninety percent of the people in Neshoba County, Mississippi, were Klansmen. Hell, I was in there."
He said the trio were "warned to get the hell out. They didn't do it, so they wound up out there in the earthen dam. Damn good place for 'em."
Alvin Sykes of Kansas City, Mo., architect of legislation creating a cold-cases unit in the Justice Department, said Friday after speaking with Justice Department officials that "anybody that believes the Chaney-Goodman-Schwerner case is over may be mistaken. We feel comfortable there is an aggressive review under way."
He said he encouraged federal officials to communicate with Neshoba County District Attorney Mark Duncan and see if it's possible for a federal prosecutor to assist the state in the case.
Duncan could not be reached for comment, but he has said he would be willing to prosecute the case against others if more evidence emerged.
Since 2006, FBI agents have spent countless hours working on more than 100 unpunished killings from the civil rights era. In many of those cases, agents had little more to work with than newspaper articles.
But the most infamous triple killing from that era wasn't included in that work by agents, despite the fact the initial FBI investigation was so intensive it generated nearly 40,000 pages of documents.
Asked if FBI agents are actually out investigating the case, Miyar responded, "We never discuss the nature or particulars of a federal investigation."
State officials have just cleared the way for a historic marker to be placed on Mississippi 19 near where the trio were killed on Rock Cut Road.
The Philadelphia Coalition has purchased the marker to be placed there. "It's a means of acknowledging what happened in a public, unequivocal way," said Susan Glisson, director of the University of Mississippi's William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, who worked with the coalition.