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Civil rights activist: 'Justice delayed should not be justice denied'

Lawrence Guyot
Civil Rights

(CNN) -- Edgar Ray Killen, an 80-year-old Mississippi man, was arrested Thursday in the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers whose bodies were buried in an earthen dam outside the town of Philadelphia. (Full story)

Killen and others faced federal charges in 1967 but Killen's trial ended in a hung jury.

CNN spoke Friday with Lawrence Guyot, a co-worker of murder victims James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman.

CNN'S RICK SANCHEZ: Let's talk to somebody now who's really tied to this story. Lawrence Guyot. He works for the Organization of Veterans of the Southern Civil Rights Movement. Guyot knew Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman. In fact, he almost got into the car with them that night that they were ambushed and killed. He's good enough to join us now from Washington to share his perspective. Thanks so much for joining us.

LAWRENCE GUYOT: It's a pleasure to be here. And I'm very -- I'm so glad that you just interviewed Susan Glisson, who's with the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, who was key to making this happen.

SANCHEZ: Well, you know, in your case, there but by the grace of God, go you. Had it not been for fate, you would have been in that car. I imagine that's why you've been so tied to this thing and have wanted to see it through to the end.

GUYOT: I don't know of anything I have been so tied to. I almost got in the car. I visited -- Michael Schwerner wasn't part of the volunteers. Michael Schwerner had been in Mississippi eight months before. I had visited him in Meridian. I knew Chaney and Goodman. They asked me, should we go back to Mississippi? Back to Neshoba County? I said, of course, with all of the national publicity about the freedom summer, nothing can possibly happen.

I've regretted those words every day of my life. I explained to the parents why I did it. So this -- today is personal with me. It vindicates the two people in Mississippi who made it happen, Leroy Clemons and Jim Prince, who organized the Neshoba County Coalition. They called for this -- the re-opening of this case a year ago.

SANCHEZ: As you mentioned going through this again, there are people who will say, you know, Killen is a very old person and this case is a long time ago. Why go through with all this tax money and all these prosecutions now? And to those you would say what?

GUYOT: I would say very clearly, there is no limitation on the prosecution for murder. This was the most politicized, open and most horrific political assassination in the '60s. There's never -- justice delayed should not be justice denied.

SANCHEZ: You know what's interesting about this case? As you read about it -- I'm sure you're as familiar as anybody -- there are reports of former Klansmen are on the record saying that the authorities there, deputies, actually helped or conspired, according to these reports and according to these quotes in this case.

What does that tell you about that era? Was there that big a tie between the white supremacists and the law enforcement officials in that time? And how have we changed? As you noticed, there are two questions there.

GUYOT: Yes, very good. The officialdoms of Mississippi, the sheriff, the vice-sheriff, were involved. Reverend Killens was -- the reason this case is being re-opened is because Samuel Bowers, who was convicted of killing Mr. Dahmer in Hattiesburg, boasted that he was glad he set a man free who was guilty of murder. That was Mr. Killens. So what we have is yes, the officialdom was involved. The churches were involved on the wrong side.

But that is changing, and it is changing because of people like Leroy Clemons and William -- Jim Prince, who formed the Coalition for Neshoba County. And on last night, they voted unanimously to get this book as the curriculum for Neshoba County as a living monument to Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman.

SANCHEZ: And you're a Mississippian, right?

GUYOT: I'm a Mississippian. I was born in Mississippi. I tell people, I reside in the city of Washington, but I'm a citizen of the state of Mississippi.

SANCHEZ: Proud Mississippian on this day, I imagine. We thank you, sir.

GUYOT: Immensely.

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