PHILADELPHIA, Miss. -- Reputed Ku Klux Klansman Edgar Ray Killen watched from a wheelchair yesterday as jury selection began in his murder trial in one of most shocking crimes of the civil rights era -- the 1964 slayings of three voter-registration volunteers.
The case against the Killen, 80, represents Mississippi's latest attempt to deal with unfinished business from the state's bloodstained racist past.
In a measure of how much things have changed in the past 41 years, about a third of the jury pool was black, roughly reflecting the racial makeup of the county's 28,700 residents. In 1964, very few blacks were registered to vote in Neshoba County, and juries were usually all-white.
The slayings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner -- three young men who were helping register blacks during the ''Freedom Summer" of 1964 -- galvanized the civil rights movement and helped win passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The case was dramatized in the 1988 movie ''Mississippi Burning."
Security was tight as about 110 potential jurors were brought to the county courthouse in buses and ushered in through a side door. Another group is expected today. Summonses went out to about 400 people.
Killen, a part-time preacher who has been free on bail, looked straight ahead and said nothing as he was taken into the two-story, red-brick courthouse. Killen is in a wheelchair because of arthritis aggravated when his legs were broken in a tree-cutting accident in March.
Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon asked potential jurors about such things as their health, reading ability, and any hardships they might face if they were picked for the case.
Streets near the courthouse in this town of about 7,300 were barricaded more than an hour before jury selection started, and those entering the building had to pass through metal detectors. Inside the courtroom, as many as nine uniformed officers, including state troopers and sheriff's deputies, stood guard.
Among those at the courthouse was Chaney's brother, Ben of New York, who has been the most vocal member of the family in seeking justice in the case.
Killen's name has been associated with the slayings from the beginning. FBI records and witnesses indicated he organized the carloads of Klansmen who followed Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner and stopped them in their station wagon.
Chaney, a black man from Mississippi, and Schwerner and Goodman, white men from New York, were beaten and shot to death. Their bodies were found 44 days later, buried in an earthen dam.
Killen was tried along with several others in 1967 on federal charges of violating the victims' civil rights. The all-white jury deadlocked in Killen's case, but seven others were convicted.
None served more than six years.