Tuesday, June 21, 2005

On Edgar Ray Killen's Conviction

Justice delayed is justice denied, but there is always a modicum that can be achieved even 41 years later. Such is the case with the conviction of Edgar Ray Killen for manslaughter in the deaths of Andrew Goodman, then 20, and Michael Schwerner, then 24, and James Earl Chaney, then 21, three young, idealistic civil rights workers who were in Mississippi in 1964. The conviction has come 41 years after the murders, and Mr. Killen - what a name - should have been in prison for years now, but it is better late than never.

As a citizen, I like to see justice done. And when proper convictions have been achieved, I like to see them upheld. But as a lawyer I also understand that prosecutors sometimes do things that jeopardize these convictions, and this annoys me because the prosecutor acts in a manner that may deprive a defendant of a fair trial, not to say jeopardizing a conviction that should otherwise stand. I mention this because in an Associated Press article on the conviction, it states that "Prosecutors had asked the jury to send a message to the rest of the world that Mississippi has changed and is committed to bringing to justice those who killed to preserve segregation in the 1960s." Prosecutors should not be asking jurors to send messages to the world. This is absolutely improper argument, and may well jeopardize an otherwise valid conviction. That jury was not there to atone for past wrongs by some of Mississippi's citizens; it was only there to decide the guilt or lack thereof of one man in the deaths of 3 young men 41 years ago. Shame on the prosecutor for making this sort of argument. The end does not justify the means. If it did, someone would have probably murdered -justifiably- Mr. Killen long ago, rather than wait 41 years for a modicum of justice.