PHILADELPHIA, Miss. -- A brother of the man accused in the 1964 deaths of three civil rights workers took the stand yesterday in his defense, saying the defendant was at a family gathering that day and never indicated he was in the Ku Klux Klan.
''Until he tells me so, I won't believe it," said Oscar Kenneth Killen, 74.
His brother, Edgar Ray Killen, 80, a part-time preacher and sawmill operator, is being tried on the first state murder charges in the killings of Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney. He faces life in prison if convicted in the case, which helped spur the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The defense called four witnesses yesterday, including Oscar Killen and a sister, Dorothy Dearing, who both testified that Killen attended a Father's Day meal until late in the afternoon on June 21, 1964, the day the three civil rights workers were killed.
Oscar Killen testified that he saw his brother at a funeral home that night.
The slain men, who were helping register black voters, had been stopped for speeding, jailed briefly, and then released, after which they were ambushed by Klansmen. They were shot. Their bodies were found 44 days later buried in an earthen dam.
Prosecutors wrapped up their case yesterday with testimony from Chaney's mother. Fannie Lee Chaney, who now lives in New Jersey, said she left Mississippi in 1965 after receiving threats, including one by a man who said he would dynamite her house.
She said another caller told her she would ''be put in a hole like James was."
Defense lawyers said they would call two more witnesses tomorrow before closing arguments. Killen is not scheduled to testify.
Attorney General Jim Hood told reporters that prosecutors would ask the judge to allow the jury to consider a lesser charge of manslaughter. Killen is charged with three counts of murder, which could lead to a life sentence. A manslaughter conviction would carry a maximum of 20 years.
Defense lawyers had no immediate comment.
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.