Neshoba - A film by Micki Dickoff and Tony Pagano
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A Film by Micki Dickoff and Tony Pagano

Updates On the Case

Jerry Mitchell Blog                                                                                                        JOURNEY TO JUSTICE                        http://blogs.clarionledger.com/jmitchell/tag/fbi/

November 30, 2008

Feds take another look at ‘64 case

Jerry Mitchell
jmitchell@clarionledger.com

The Justice Department again is examining the Ku Klux Klan’s 1964 killings of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County, known as the “Mississippi Burning” case.

A department official recently contacted The Clarion-Ledger, asking questions about the 2,802-page transcript of the 1967 U.S. District Court trial that ended in the conviction of Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, then-Deputy Cecil Price and others.

The Justice Department’s interest is a change of stance for the department, which previously had omitted the June 21, 1964, killings of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney from its review of more than 100 killings from the civil rights era – despite the fact five suspects are still alive.
Hundreds of FBI agents investigated the trio’s disappearances, leading to the grisly discovery of their bodies buried 15 feet beneath an earthen dam. In 1967, 18 men went on trial on federal conspiracy charges, and seven of them 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. He is serving 60 years in prison.

The Clarion-Ledger revealed the Neshoba County grand jury that indicted Killen came within one vote of indicting another suspect, Billy Wayne Posey, with a deciding vote cast by a Posey relative. The newspaper also found three potential new witnesses against Posey.

In October, Richard Cohen, president of the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center, urged Justice Department officials to pursue a case against Posey, if possible.

“Justice in some of these cases is going to have to serve as a symbol for all the cases,” Cohen said. “Perhaps the most notorious case is the Mississippi Burning case.”

Called for comment, Posey’s wife answered and remarked, “He wouldn’t be interested in talking to you.”

This past summer, civil rights activists gathered outside courthouses in Meridian and Philadelphia, holding signs, one of which read, “Killen did not act alone. He shouldn’t be in jail alone.”

Earlier this month, Chaney’s brother, Ben, and others met in Washington with Justice Department officials, asking them to pursue the case against the living suspects: Posey and Pete Harris, both of Meridian; Olen Burrage of Philadelphia; former Philadelphia police officer Richard Willis of Noxapater; and Jimmie Snowden of Hickory.

Any evidence FBI agents develop likely would have to be presented to a Mississippi grand jury for a murder prosecution because the statute of limitations appears to have run out on possible federal crimes.

Alvin Sykes, architect of legislation aimed at prosecution of unpunished killings from the civil rights era, said he suggested at the meeting that Justice Department officials follow the example of what was done in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, where federal prosecutors were deputized and successfully prosecuted two reputed Klansmen on state murder charges.

In his initial statement to state investigators on April 5, 2000, Posey insisted he didn’t take part in the killings of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney and had gone to federal prison for several years for something he didn’t do.

Posey told investigators there were “a lot of persons involved in the murders that did not go to jail.”

He would not name those people.

Two months later, his story changed. Admitting his involvement in the killings, he told Mississippi authorities he contacted Killen, who helped orchestrate the trio’s killings.

Posey also said 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.
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 denied being a member of the Klan, his own brother, Richard, suggested otherwise in the documentary, expected to be shown in Mississippi next year.

“Ninety percent of the people in Neshoba County, Mississippi, were Klansmen,” Posey’s brother told filmmakers. “Hell, I was in there. A man keeps coming to your house, sticking (his) nose in your damn business, (he’s) going to get it chopped off sooner or later.

“And that’s what they did down here. They kept on agitatin’ and agitatin’. They 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.”

To comment on this story, call Jerry Mitchell at (601) 961-7064.
Copyright (c) The Clarion-Ledger. Jackson, MS. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by News Bank, inc.

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March 30, 2008

Film follows Killen case

Edition: Metro, Section: Main, Page: 1A
Documentary Neshoba names five suspects still living in 1964 killings
By Jerry Mitchell

The wife of convicted killer Edgar Ray Killen said Billy Wayne Posey deserves more blame than her husband for the Ku Klux Klan’s 1964 killings of three civil rights workers.

“I feel like Billy Wayne Posey was there, and I feel like he was more responsible than Edgar Ray was,” Killen’s wife, Jo, told documentary filmmakers.

Her comment is contained in a new documentary, Neshoba, which focuses on the events leading to Edgar Ray Killen’s 2005 conviction for orchestrating the June 21, 1964, killings of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner.

The documentary, which has not been seen by the public, names the five suspects still living in the case: Posey and Pete Harris, both of Meridian; Olen Burrage of Philadelphia; former Philadelphia police officer Richard Willis of Noxapater; and Jimmie Snowden of Hickory.

The Neshoba County grand jury that indicted Killen in 2005 came within one vote of also indicting Posey, and a deciding vote was cast by a relative of Posey’s.

Informed what Killen’s wife remarked in the documentary, Posey laughed then denied her statement.

Asked about an FBI agent’s statement that Posey admitted he was a guard during the Klan’s executions, Posey replied, “That’s crap.”

The Clarion-Ledger has tracked down three potential new witnesses against Posey, including former FBI agent Robert Butler, who said when he arrested Posey on Dec. 4, 1964, at Posey’s Phillips 66 service station in Williamsville, Posey denied killing the trio, but said, “I was on guard duty at the perimeter.”
In a 2000 confession to Mississippi authorities, Posey said he contacted Killen. Posey also 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. Authorities, seeking to get more evidence against Killen, secured the statement from Posey on condition it could not be used against him.

Posey told authorities he never belonged to the Klan, but Posey’s brother, Richard, told filmmakers, “Ninety percent of the people in Neshoba County, Mississippi, were Klansmen. Hell, I was in there. A man keeps coming to your house, sticking (his) nose in your damn business, (he’s) going to get it chopped off sooner or later.

“And that’s what they did down here. They kept on agitatin’ and agitatin’. They 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.”

Co-producer Tony Pagano said one reason they wanted to make the documentary was to show “there are others out there who need to be prosecuted.”

There were eight living suspects in 2005, he said. “These people need to be brought to justice.”

Pagano and co-producer Micki Dickoff said the documentary is in the final stages of postproduction, and they’re looking for a distributor. The pair shot the documentary from April 2004 through Killen’s conviction in the summer of 2005.

One reason they did the documentary was “to find out whether the prosecution of one 80-year-old man did anything to erase the stain of the past and promote racial healing,” Dickoff said.

They’re hoping to debut the documentary on June 21 – the anniversary of the trio’s killings. The film includes access to the families of the slain civil rights workers and intimate, exclusive interviews with Killen and his family. In the documentary, Killen, now 83, can be seen reading his Bible and insisting he isn’t prejudiced.

As an example, he said he never whipped any of the African Americans who worked for him in the sawmill business, adding, “but sometimes they made you do it.” He called himself a “segregationist” who opposes racial intermingling of any sort and at one point seemed to hint he had a role in the killings: “God knows I did what I had to do and had to say.”

Although he declared his innocence, he wore the badge of accusation proudly. “I’m literally mobbed most anywhere I go,” he bragged. He went on to proclaim: “Ninety-nine percent of the people back then wished they’d been the ones who got them.”

The documentary also discussed ties between Killen and then-Sen. Jim Eastland, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, routinely blocked civil rights bills and regularly shared information with Mississippi’s notorious segregationist spy agency, the state Sovereignty Commission. The commission is defunct.

Killen said he regularly checked into matters for Eastland and called the late senator “a second father to me.”

On the morning of June 21, 2005, Killen, a part-time preacher, expressed confidence he would walk free because of a hung jury. That’s what had happened in 1967 when a U.S. District Court jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of convicting Killen after one juror told the others she could “never convict a preacher.”

But in 2005 four hours after Killen told filmmakers he was sure he’d be set free, a Neshoba County jury convicted him of manslaughter.

After that verdict, Killen expressed surprise, saying some jurors had planned to acquit him.

“Three of the nice people sent word that they’d be there till hell froze over,” Killen remarked. “And yet now them come back and said guilty.”

That came as news to jurors The Clarion-Ledger reached.
“That was not correct as far as I could tell,” said juror Warren Paprocki. “Nobody seemed to be intractable. The ones who were holding out were just like, ‘It’s been 40 years,’ or ‘He’s an old guy,’ or ‘This should have been done years ago.’ ”

Paprocki said, when he was sitting in the courtroom for jury selection, Killen “caught my eye and leered at me.”

He joked, “I guess you can tell a Yankee from a long way away.”
Paprocki is originally from California and moved to Mississippi in 1991.
Of what the jurors did, he said: “We did what we were supposed to do.”
In an interview before his death, Klansman-turned-FBI informant Delmar Dennis said Killen told him the Klan had tampered with juries to keep Klansmen from being convicted.

Dickoff said she didn’t know whether Killen’s remarks were bravado or not.
“After all, the jury convicted him,” she said. “I do know Killen really believed the jury would hang.”
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To comment on this story, call Jerry Mitchell at (601) 961-7064.
Copyright (c) The Clarion-Ledger. Jackson, MS. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by News Bank, inc.