Attorney General closes “Mississippi Burning” case

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Monday, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced the cessation of the state and federal “Mississippi Burning” case due to a lack of viable potential criminal charges.
According to a release from the MS AG’s office, on June 21, 1964 James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner disappeared in Neshoba County. The three civil rights workers were in the area to register African American voters.
Their bodies were discovered 44 days later, the release states.
Picayune resident and former educator Mary Richardson remembers feeling angry about the murders.
“We were just trying to vote and get something for us,” she said.
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, she said.
According to, the act banned the use of literacy tests and provided for federal oversight of voter registration in areas where less than 50 percent of the nonwhite population had not registered to vote.
During the 1970s, Richardson organized voter drives in Pearl River County and also brought black residents to register to vote. She worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Voters’ League, she said.
“Many elderly blacks were afraid to register because they thought people would know how they voted,” she said. “We informed them that people weren’t allowed to know who they voted for.”
During that period in her life, Richardson said she received life-threatening calls prompting the Federal Bureau of Investigation to place a tap on her phone, she said.
In 1967, in relation to the “Mississippi Burning” case, one man pleaded guilty and seven other people were tried and convicted of federal civil rights violations related to the murders, the release states. In 2005, Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of manslaughter and is serving a 60-year prison sentence.
About 18 months ago, a witness backed out at the last minute after agreeing to sign a sworn statement that would have implicated a suspect, Hood said in the release.
Hood also said in the release that the investigation was “thorough and complete,” and he is convinced investigators have done everything possible under the law to find the responsible parties and hold them accountable.
“We sincerely appreciate the blood, sweat and tears of the FBI agents, Department of Justice officials, Navy Seabees, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and local court offices that assisted in this case,” Hood said in the release. “The FBI agents who came into Mississippi faced threats and harassment in addition to the oppressive heat of a Mississippi summer. Despite a hostile environment, these law enforcement officers remained solely focused on locating the missing and solving this heinous crime. The state of Mississippi was committed to seeing this investigation through to fruition and to moving forward. We should all acknowledge that our diversity is this state’s great asset. That remarkable diversity manifests itself in the unique culture we share with the world. Our state and our entire nation are a much better place because of the work of those three young men and others in 1964 who only wanted to ensure that the rights and freedoms promised in our Constitution were afforded to every single one of us in Mississippi.”
Richardson said she has never missed a chance to cast her vote in an election.
“Back then, we didn’t have any rights at all,” she said. “After we got the right to vote, people started recognizing us and we started getting the things we wanted. It was rough back then, but we worked things out. Things are much better now than they were back then.”

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