Dept. of Justice closes Mississippi Burning case after 52 years - - Jackson, MS

Dept. of Justice closes Mississippi Burning case after 52 years

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Source: Wiki Commons Source: Wiki Commons
Source: WLBT archives Source: WLBT archives

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced that the Department of Justice has closed the Mississippi Burning case after 52 years.

Federal and state investigators say they've exhausted every avenue in investigating the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi.

Hood said investigators have concluded that there are no more viable potential criminal charges in the case. 

This decision, to close the "Mississippi Burning" case, came on the heels of U.S. Department of Justice releasing a report into the murders of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.  

“The FBI, my office and other law enforcement agencies have spent decades chasing leads, searching for evidence and fighting for justice for the three young men who were senselessly murdered on June 21, 1964,” Attorney General Hood said.

“It has been a thorough and complete investigation. I am convinced that during the last 52 years, investigators have done everything possible under the law to find those responsible and hold them accountable; however, we have determined that there is no likelihood of any additional convictions. Absent any new information presented to the FBI or my office, this case will be closed.”

On June 21,1964, three civil rights workers, identified at James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael "Mickey" Schwerner, were abducted and murdered in Neshoba County. They had been working to register black voters in Mississippi during Freedom Summer and had gone to investigate the burning of a black church.

The three men were chased in their car, abducted, shot at close range, and buried in a dam by members of the KKK, the Neshoba County Sheriff's Office and the Philadelphia Police Department.

Three days after their disappearance, the civil rights workers' car was found. Their bodies were discovered 44 days after their abduction and murder.

In 1967, one man pleaded guilty and 7 others were tried and convicted of federal civil rights violations related to the murders. In 2005, the Attorney General’s Office and Neshoba County District Attorney’s Office secured a manslaughter conviction for Edgar Ray Killen, who is currently serving a 60-year prison sentence.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently presented its findings to Hood, who determined based on those findings that there were no other viable prosecutions in the “Mississippi Burning” case or related cases.

Hood said the most recent development in the case was 18 months ago, when a witness backed out at the last minute after pledging to sign a sworn statement that would have implicated a suspect.

The relatives of the victims have been told about the decision to close the case. According to Hood, those family members recognize the work of law enforcement over the years to solve the crimes.

“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.

“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.”

He specifically thanked Barry Kowalski and William Nolan of the Department of Justice, as well as FBI Special Agent Jeromy Turner.

Hood said closing the case also closes a significant chapter in Mississippi’s history.

“The state of Mississippi was committed to seeing this investigation through to fruition and to moving forward,” said Hood. “We should all acknowledge that our diversity is this state’s greatest 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.”

Hood did say that if new information on the cases surfaces, it will be thoroughly investigated.

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