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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 June, 2005, 23:38 GMT 00:38 UK
Mississippi defendant falls ill
Edgar Ray Killen
Killen will be kept in hospital overnight
A man accused of the 1964 murders of three US civil rights workers has been taken to hospital after falling ill on the first day of evidence at his trial.

Edgar Ray Killen, 80, was carried out on a stretcher suffering from high blood pressure and breathing problems.

He was taken away as the widow of one of the victims, Rita Schwerner Bender, described how she realised for the first time that her husband was dead.

The judge adjourned the trial in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Mr Killen is expected to remain in hospital overnight, but will be examined in the morning to see if he is fit to return to the court.

The defendant has been attending the trial in a wheelchair, after breaking both his legs in a woodcutting accident.

Admissible evidence

The trial opened on Wednesday and is expected to last several weeks.

Michael Schwerner, 24, Andy Goodman, 20, and James Chaney, 21, were murdered as they campaigned to register black voters.

Mr Killen denies any part in the killings.

On Thursday, Judge Gordon ruled that evidence from Mr Killen's 1967 conspiracy trial was admissible in the current trial. Many of the witnesses in that trial have since died.

Later, Ms Bender fought back tears as she remembered finding out that the authorities had found the blue station wagon that Schwerner and the two others were in when they disappeared. The burned car was abandoned in a swamp.

"I think it hit me for the first time that they were dead, that there was really no realistic possibility that they were alive," she told the court.

In opening statements on Wednesday, Mr Killen's lawyer acknowledged for the first time that his client was a Ku Klux Klansman, but said this did not make him guilty of murder.

The three men were abducted and killed during the night as they drove out of Philadelphia, Mississippi, and their bodies were buried at a dam.

Mr Killen, who was a suspect in the original investigation but never convicted, was re-arrested after new evidence emerged.

The story of the original FBI investigation into the crime was dramatised in the 1988 film Mississippi Burning.

Watch footage of Edgar Ray Killen in court

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