A trial of Edgar Ray Killen is started

Opening statements began Wednesday in the trial of a man accused of masterminding the abduction and murders of three young &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/science/19/95/381/11027_Hoffman.html ' target=_blank>civil rights workers nearly 41 years ago.

Edgar Ray Killen, 80, is on trial in Neshoba County Circuit Court for the 1964 killings of Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney, who were registering voters in Mississippi during the "Freedom Summer" campaign.

The slayings helped galvanize the civil rights movement in the 1960s and inspired the 1988 movie "Mississippi Burning." State Attorney General James Hood gave the opening statement for the prosecution, telling jurors that Killen, a part-time Baptist preacher, was the person who instigated and planned the Ku Klux Klan attack on the three men, informs CNN News.

According to ABC News, in his opening statement, defense attorney Mitch Moran denied that Killen was a leader in planning the attack on Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney. He did not dispute that Killen was a member of the Klan at the time of the slayings, but he said Klan membership alone did not make him guilty of murder.

"The Klan's not on trial here. Being a member of the Klan is not on trial here," Moran said. "You can't hold him accountable for something he didn't plan or orchestrate."

Moran said Killen "was just a bystander in the same organization that a lot of other people were in at the same time in Neshoba County." He added: "As repulsive as an organization like that might be, you can't find him guilty for the crime he's charged with."

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