State judge in 'Mississippi Burning' trial dies at age 84

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Posted: May 26, 2016 2:04 PM
State judge in 'Mississippi Burning' trial dies at age 84

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The state judge who presided over the "Mississippi Burning" trial in 2005 has died.

Retired Mississippi Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon died Thursday at St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson, the state Administrative Office of the Courts said. He was 84. A cause of death was not immediately available.

Gordon sentenced Edgar Ray Killen to 60 years in prison after a mixed-race jury convicted the reputed former Ku Klux Klan leader of manslaughter in the 1964 kidnap-slaying of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County.

The revival of the cold case from the civil rights era marked the first time state prosecutors had brought charges in what the FBI called the "Mississippi Burning" investigation.

Killen was convicted on June 21, 2005 — 41 years to the day after the killings of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman. Two days later, Gordon sentenced Killen to the maximum of 20 years on each of the three counts of manslaughter. Killen, 91, remains in prison.

"Each life has value. Each life is equally as valuable as the other life and I have taken that into consideration," Gordon said. "The three lives should absolutely be respected and treated equally."

During the sentencing, more than 25 armed law-enforcement officers stood against the walls of the 200-seat, oak-paneled courtroom in the Neshoba County Courthouse, with Killen's relatives on one side of the aisle and the victims' families on the other.

Gordon died less than three months after retiring as the longest-serving state circuit judge in Mississippi, with 37 years on the bench.

"Judge Gordon served with distinction in many capacities throughout his long career," Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. said in a statement Thursday. "He courageously presided over many very difficult cases, including the trial of Edgar Ray Killen."