A KKK member responsible for the 1964 murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi has died while serving a 60-year-sentence for manslaughter, the Clarion Ledger reports. The Mississippi Department of Corrections tells NPR that Edgar Ray Killen died Thursday night at the age of 92. He was suffering from congestive heart failure and hypertension. Killen, a tree-cutter and small-time preacher, was a founding member and main recruiter for the KKK in the Philadelphia area of Mississippi in 1964 when James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were investigating a church fire, the New York Times reports. The three civil rights workers in their early 20s were arrested and then released to Klan members, who shot them and buried the bodies.
The killings were instrumental in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and were later dramatized in the 1988 film Mississippi Burning. Killen was one of 18 people put on trial in 1967 for the murders, but the jury was hung after one juror said she couldn't convict a preacher. The case was reopened decades later, and Killen was convicted in 2005 of three counts of manslaughter. He was the only one charged despite other suspects being alive. Goodman's brother calls it "an American tragedy" that none of the others ever faced justice. “I pray to God that Edgar Ray repented and that he had peace with God,” Chaney's daughter tells the Clarion Ledger. “My ultimate desire is when I get to heaven and meet my dad for the first time, I pray that my dad and I could embrace Edgar Ray.” (Read more klu klux klan stories.)