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'Mississippi Burning' trial opens

June 15, 2005 at 10:38 PM

PHILADELPHIA, Miss., June 15 (UPI) -- The trial of a man accused of organizing the abduction and murders of three civil rights workers in 1964 began Wednesday in Philadelphia, Miss.

In his opening statement, State Attorney General James Hood told a Neshoba County Circuit Court that 80-year-old part-time Baptist preacher Edgar Ray Killen masterminded the Ku Klux Klan attack, which claimed the lives of Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney. Hood said the prosecution had the cooperation of former Klan members who plan to testify about Killen's involvement, CNN reported.

Defense attorney Mitch Moran said during his opening statement that the issue before jurors was who committed the slayings. Moran said that while Killen may have had advance knowledge of the acts, he did not plan or execute them.

He said the jury's decision should not be affected by the jury's feelings toward the Ku Klux Klan or membership in the group.

Killen was indicted by a grand jury in January.

The slaying of the three men inspired the 1988 film "Mississippi Burning," which was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best picture.

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