PHILADELPHIA, Miss. – Edgar Ray Killen was sentenced Thursday to 60 years in prison for the killings of three civil rights workers 41 years ago.
Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon sentenced the sawmill owner, part-time preacher and former Ku Klux Klansman to 20 years for each of three manslaughter counts.
The sentence, the maximum Killen could have received, came two days after a jury convicted Killen in the June 21, 1964, deaths of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman.
“I take no pleasure in handing down this sentence,” Gordon told Killen as the defendant looked up from the wheelchair he has used since a tree-cutting accident in March. “The three gentlemen who were killed … each life had value, and each life is as valuable as the other life. The three lives should absolutely be respected.”
Killen moved his lips slightly but otherwise remained still. He was not wearing an oxygen tube under his nose, as he had during his trial.
The sentence is effectively a life term for Killen, who is 80 and suffers from high blood pressure.
“Law does not recognize the distinction of age,” Gordon told Killen before passing sentence.
Killen will appear in court again Monday, when his attorneys plan to ask Gordon to release Killen while he appeals his conviction. They also will ask the judge for a new trial.
On Thursday, Killen was to be taken to the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County, where one-time Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, who ordered the trio’s killings, is being held on a 1998 conviction for ordering the 1966 killing of NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer.
Killen is the only person convicted on state charges related to the slayings of the three civil rights workers, who were in Mississippi trying to help black residents register to vote.