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 bond 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 bond Aug. 12.
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Gordon — who presided over Killen’s trial and set the appeal bond — 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.
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. During the bond hearing, he 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.
“He has driven some,” she said. “It helps him working his feet.”
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.
“The truck pulled up and stopped and I saw him step out,” the deputy told the court. “No one else was in the truck.”
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 bond revocation is likely. Killen, a brother and others had put up Neshoba County property to secure the $600,000 bond.
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.