Jury Evenly Split in Mississippi Murder Case
Jury Evenly Split in Mississippi Murder Case (WaPo, A3)
Jurors formed a semicircle around the judge overseeing the trial in the infamous 1964 killings of three civil rights workers and announced Monday that they are deadlocked 6 to 6, casting a sense of despair over a courtroom packed mostly with prosecution supporters.
A pair of women in the audience who probably would not have sat together in public in this small town at the time of the killings — one white, one black — shook their heads. Tears welled in the white woman’s eyes and she began to sob; the black woman, Dolores Barnes, gritted her teeth.
“Same as it is all over Mississippi,” Barnes said moments later, her eyes flashing in anger. “They don’t have repentant hearts.”
After two hours of deliberations on the day before the 41st anniversary of the slayings, the jurors’ pronouncement — they are to resume deliberating Tuesday — is only an early indication of their thinking about the murder and manslaughter charges against Edgar Ray Killen, an 80-year-old former Ku Klux Klan leader. Still, the jury’s even split had many here considering the possibility that the case could end in an acquittal or a mistrial. Southern prosecutors have had remarkable success over the past 15 years resurrecting civil-rights-era cases, and a failure in this case — which was the subject of the movie “Mississippi Burning” — could be a serious blow to efforts to reopen other cases from the 1960s.
All the cases have their peculiarities, but the prosecution’s jury consultant, Andrew Sheldon — who has worked on several of the most high-profile cases in the past decade — noticed one glaring difference about the Killen case. Some prospective jurors in almost all the cases have said during jury selection that the defendant was too old or the cases were too old but did not appear to actually mean it. In the Killen case, Sheldon said, “it seems like people really felt that.”
One of the many problems with digging up decades-old cases for re-prosecution in order to salve old wounds is that only one outcome is “acceptable.” Our criminal justice system is supposed to be geared to put the burden on the prosecution. In these cases, though, the guilt of the man on trial is assumed and the jury is expected to play their role in the grand show by convicting him. If they do, all is as expected. If they don’t, then it just goes to show that they’re a bunch of racists and society has not changed.