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James Stern    

Minister; Civil Rights Activist

In the storm of race relations, James Stern has always been the peacemaker. He’s a rebel with a cause. A community leader willing to fight for the underdog. So, it’s really no surprise to him that when he landed in medical Unit 31 of a Mississippi State Penitentiary, he ended up being the confidante to the notorious Klansman Edgar Ray Killen.

A Southern Baptist preacher and segregationist, Killen is now serving a 60-year sentence for manslaughter in the 1964 murders of three voting-rights activists in Neshoba County, Mississippi. The civil rights workers were registering black voters when they were abducted and killed. The case inspired the 1988, award-winning movie, “Mississippi Burning,” starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe.

Since both Stern and Killen are preachers, perhaps Killen felt he could bear his soul to this black man. Perhaps, the 89-year-old inmate (MDOC #112906) wants to live out the rest of his remaining days under house arrest, free from prison bars. Whatever the case, Stern shared the same prison medical facility with Killen from July 2010 to November 2011, until the day he was paroled. Stern, a California native, wasn’t familiar with the history of Mississippi’s civil rights murder cases or Killen’s infamy until other inmates clued him in.

“I heard that man talk every day,” said Stern. Over the course of their “friendship,” Killen admitted to 32 individuals; plus fingered other people involved in the killings who are still alive. But Sterns is not asking you to take his word for it, he has a collection of notes and letters, all penned by Killen, confessing to his bad deeds like a Catholic sinner as well as letters from his wife, Betty Jo Killen. Handwriting experts Russell R. Bradford of San Pedro, Calif. and Curt Baggett of Richardson, Texas have both provided affidavits, verifying to the authenticity and validity of the Killens handwritings.

Also, according to Stern, Killen gave him the intellectual-property rights to his story and granted him power-of-attorney over his estate, including a 41-acre plot in Neshoba County where Killen claims to have committed the other murders.

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