Judge Marcus Gordon sentenced Killen, 80, to three 20-year terms, one for each count of manslaughter. The terms will run consecutively.
Gordon explained that he considered Killen’s age when sentencing Killen, but he also considered the victims, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.
“I have taken that into consideration that there are three lives involved in this case and the three lives should absolutely be respected,” Gordon said.
Killen, a Mississippi resident, became the only person to face state murder charges for the three deaths when he went on trial this month. He was brought to trial on three murder counts, but Gordon gave jurors the option of considering manslaughter counts instead.
If Killen had been charged with murder, prosecutors would have had to prove intent to kill and Killen could have faced a life sentence. By charging Killen with manslaughter, prosecutors had to prove only that a victim died while another crime was being committed.
James McIntyre, Killen’s attorney, said he will appeal, arguing that Gordon shouldn’t have given the jury the ability to consider manslaughter charges.
In 1967, Killen was tried on federal charges of violating the civil rights of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner, but the all-white jury deadlocked. Seven other people were convicted; none served more than six years of their sentences.
The conviction came exactly 41 years after the murders of the victims on June 21, 1964. Killen, a former Baptist minister, was accused of helping plan their deaths. Their bodies were found by the FBI after a 44-day search.
The triple murder is considered a catalyst in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The FBI’s search for Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner inspired the 1988 movie “Mississippi Burning.”