A 79-year-old former leader of the militant racist Ku Klux Klan group has pleaded not guilty in the 1964 killing of three civil rights activists made famous by the 1988 Mississipi Burning movie.
Edgar Ray Killen, a white ordained Baptist minister known as "The Preacher," was arrested late Thursday at his home in rural Neshoba county in the Deep South state.
Killen appeared in court in Philadelphia, Mississippi Friday morning handcuffed and in an orange jumpsuit. US media said he shouted his plea of not guilty back to the judge.
The courthouse was evacuated after the hearing because of a bomb threat but nothing was found.
Killen is the first person to be charged with the murders on June 21, 1964 of James Chaney, a 21-year-old black man from Mississippi, and Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24, both white men from New York.
All had gone to Neshoba County to teach blacks about voting rights. They disappeared after going to investigate a fire at a church used by blacks.
The three were detained by a deputy sheriff, Cecil Price, and after being released in the middle of the night were caught again by Klu Klux Klan members who Price had tipped off. Their bodies were found in Aug. 1964 in a muddy ditch.
The murders sparked an outpouring of national support for the civil rights movement in the southern states.
Carolyn Goodman, the 88-year-old mother of Andrew Goodman, told reporters from her New York home: "In this world justice prevails."
Larry Myers, the sheriff of Neshoba county, said other people could also be charged. On top of Killen, seven people suspected of involvement in the killings are said to be still alive. Seven men were convicted on federal conspiracy charges in 1967, but none served more than six years in prison. Killen and 10 other suspects went free due to a hung jury.