PHILADELPHIA, Miss. -- Former Ku Klux Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen was released from jail yesterday on $600,000 bond while he appeals his manslaughter convictions and 60-year sentence in the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers.
Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon said he was convinced by testimony that Killen, who is 80 and uses a wheelchair, was neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community.
''It's not a matter of what I feel, it's a matter of the law," Gordon said, citing previous cases that were appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
Killen refused to answer questions yesterday as he got into a car with family members.
He was convicted June 21 for masterminding the 1964 slayings of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman. His conviction came 41 years to the day after the trio was mobbed and killed by Klansmen.
Jacob Ray, a spokesman for state Attorney General Jim Hood, said the office was considering appealing Gordon's decision to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
During yesterday's hearing, a black jailer testified that he had felt threatened by Killen when booking him into jail after his conviction.
Kenny Spencer said that when Killen was asked a standard question for new inmates -- whether he was suicidal -- Killen told him, ''I would kill you before I killed myself."
Killen, who had not testified at his trial, said yesterday that he did not remember making such a statement and that if he had, it should not have been taken seriously.
''Oh, it'd have to be joking," Killen said. ''I don't do those things."
Killen is the only person ever to face state charges in the three deaths, which shocked the nation and helped spur passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The case was dramatized in the 1988 movie ''Mississippi Burning."
Killen was tried in 1967 on federal charges of violating the victims' civil rights, but the all-white jury deadlocked, with one juror saying she could not convict a preacher. Seven others were convicted, but none served more than six years.
The three civil rights workers, all in the their 20s, were investigating the burning of a black church outside Philadelphia when they were stopped on an accusation of speeding and held for hours in the Neshoba County jail.
Witnesses said Killen rounded up carloads of Klansmen to intercept the three men upon their release and helped arrange for a bulldozer to hide the bodies. He went to a Philadelphia funeral home as the attacks took place, witnesses said.