Statement from Head of the Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta on Mississippi’s Decision to Close Investigation into Murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, released the following statement on Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s decision to close the investigation into the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner:
“During ‘Freedom Summer’ in 1964, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were brutally murdered while working as part of a massive campaign to register African-American voters in Mississippi. Their gruesome deaths shook the nation. The ensuing federal civil rights prosecution, which sought to bring their families a measure of justice, was a proud moment for the Justice Department. In 1967, federal prosecutors from the Civil Rights Division convicted eight defendants for violating the federal criminal civil rights conspiracy statute.
“The Justice Department has investigated this case three times over 50 years and has helped convict nine individuals for their roles in this heinous crime. In 2005, Edgar Ray Killen was convicted by a state jury of three counts of manslaughter based on new information that state and federal prosecutors discovered and pursued in 2000. With the passage of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act in 2008, the department reopened our investigation into the incident again in 2010. The department’s focus during this third investigation honed in on determining whether sufficient admissible evidence existed to support further state prosecution against any surviving person for involvement in the murders.
“Mississippi Attorney General Hood has determined that despite one of the most intensely investigated and documented underlying investigations of any racially-motivated murder during the 1960s, followed by the exhaustive efforts of more recent reinvestigations, the passage of time has simply rendered additional prosecutions impossible. While legal and factual impediments sometimes prevent us from bringing cases we wish that we could, the Civil Rights Division remains dedicated to pursuing racially-motivated crimes wherever the facts allow.
“Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner gave their lives while struggling to advance the cause of civil rights for all. Though the reinvestigation into their heinous deaths has formally closed, we must all honor their legacy by forging ahead and continuing the fight to ensure that the founding promise of America is true for all of its inhabitants.”