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'Mississippi Burning' deaths may be prosecuted

Jackson, Miss.
With the recent spate of court successes dealing with Civil Rights-era violence, Mississippi prosecutors have said that they are encouraged to continue to bring those cases to court. One particular case is on the table now and may be brought before a grand jury soon. That case involves the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. These murders were the basis for the 1988 movie "Mississippi Burning." It is easily the most notorious of the remaining unresolved civil rights-era cases.

Three civil rights workers had just visited a fire-bombed church in Philadelphia, Mississippi when they were pulled over for speeding. After leaving jail, they were attacked and dissappeared. 44 days later, they were found buried in an earthen dam. They had been shot, and Chaney, who was black, had been severely beaten before he was shot.

No one has tried this case in a state court. A sheriff's deputy and 6 Klan members were convicted in a federal court of conspiring to violate the men's civil rights.

"It's sort of like there's a noose hanging around the neck of Mississippi with a big ball and chain," said Ben Chaney, head of the James Earl Chaney Foundation, a New York civil rights group. "Until this case is vigorously prosecuted, I think the ball and chain will continue to pull the neck of the state down, hold Mississippi back." back