PHILADELPHIA, Miss. -- A reputed Ku Klux Klansman was arrested late yesterday on murder charges in the 1964 slayings of three voter-registration volunteers, a case that is among the remaining pieces of unfinished business from the civil rights era.
Sheriff Larry Myers said Edgar Ray Killen was arrested at his home without incident. Myers said more arrests would be made in connection with the killings, which were dramatized in the 1988 movie "Mississippi Burning."
Killen's arrest followed a grand jury session yesterday that apparently included testimony from individuals thought to have knowledge of the slayings. Myers said Killen, a 79-year-old preacher, was being held on three counts of murder.
"We went ahead and got him because he was high-profile, and we knew where he was," the sheriff said.
Calls to Killen's home late yesterday were not answered.
The grand jury considered whether sufficient evidence existed after 40 years to bring charges in the crimes. Killen was identified in testimony in earlier federal court proceedings as having a role in the killings.
Mississippi has had some success reopening old civil-rights murder cases, including the 1994 conviction of Byron de la Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers.
But until recently little progress has been made in building murder cases against anyone involved in the Ku Klux Klan slayings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.
Seven Klansmen were convicted of federal conspiracy charges in the killings and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three years to 10 years. None served more than six years. But the state never brought murder charges.
"After 40 years to come back and do something like this is ridiculous . . . like a nightmare," said Billy Wayne Posey, one of the men convicted. The graying Posey, supported by a cane, spoke earlier in the day as he waited to testify before the grand jury. He declined to say what he expected to be asked.
Goodman's mother said she "knew that in the end the right thing was going to happen."
Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were among hundreds of Freedom Summer volunteers, mostly white college students, who came to Mississippi in 1964 to educate blacks and help them to vote. The three were beaten and shot to death. Their bodies were found later in an earthen dam.