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There was a hidden factor behind a string of seven successful prosecutions in the last decade for murders committed during the 1960s civil rights movement, including the recent conviction of Edgar Ray Killen for the killings of three civil rights workers. In each case, prosecutors used jury consultants, who often worked pro bono. And one jury consultant, Andrew Sheldon, worked on them all. It was a form of atonement for Sheldon, an attorney and psychologist who directs Atlanta’s Sheldon Associates. “Because I was [in Georgia] in the ’60s and was otherwise occupied,” said Sheldon. “A white middle class kid and it was right under my nose and I was not seeing-I was not affected by it.” All the trials, which took place in Mississippi or Alabama, resulted in convictions. They included the murder convictions of Thomas Blanton, in 2001, and Bobby Frank Cherry, in 2002, for the 1963 Birmingham, Ala., church bombing in which four African-American girls were killed; and the 1995 conviction of Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 murder of NAACP organizer Medgar Evers, in Jackson, Miss. The cases were not slam dunks. Many witnesses were dead or infirm, and the physical evidence was scant or nonexistent. Jurors were not adults when the crimes were committed. They had little, if any, exposure to the state-sanctioned systems of racism that existed at the time. The defendants looked like grandfathers who were incapable of committing such heinous crimes. Only one witness in the Killen case was still alive-and that was a hearsay witness. No physical evidence linked Killen to the crime. Three other witnesses’ testimony would be read from a 1967 criminal federal civil rights trial that had resulted in some convictions. But the jury had hung on Killen. ‘A voodoo kind of thing’ District Attorney Mark Duncan, who started working on the Killen case in 1999 when still an assistant DA, had never used a jury consultant before. “Most of the things I had always heard about jury consultants was a voodoo kind of thing,” said Duncan, who co-tried the case with Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood. “But after Andy and them got into this case, I began to realize how helpful they could be.” Sheldon brought in two other volunteers who had worked on other civil rights-era cases with him: Neal Howard of Chicago’s Zagnoli McEvoy Foley and Beth Benora of San Francisco’s Benora D’Andrea. Judge Marcus D. Gordon allowed individual voir dire in his chambers for jurors who had expressed strong opinions, and he let Sheldon and Benora sit in. The two consultants worked around the clock sorting through the questionnaires and interview notes, said Benora, who co-founded the first jury consulting firm in 1975. Many locals in the rural county just wanted the case to go away. “The murders had cast long shadows over the community,” Benora said. “Most people had related feelings that it was too late to try this case. We looked for jurors who had independence and courage.” For Howard, who comes from an advertising and screenwriting background, Sheldon had something else in mind. He wanted Howard to suggest a script for the prosecutors that would give the case an immediacy. “The passage of time posed a huge challenge,” Howard said. “There was a time-tunnel effect. . . . We had to get across that time had not just passed, but had been used as a conscious tool of the defendant to take advantage of a system that he had thought would always be protective of him.” Killen’s co-counsel, James McIntyre, a solo practitioner in Jackson, Miss., said he has no use for jury consultants. “I can read jurors after conducting voir dire,” said McIntyre, who represented Killen in the 1967 federal trial. “I’ve been practicing law for 45 years. I got half a convicting jury and half an acquitting jury.” He said if the judge had not allowed the prosecution to switch to a theory of manslaughter in the middle of the trial-a theory based on a kidnapping for which the statute of limitations had already run-the jury would have hung. Killen, 80, was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the killings of Michael Schwerner, 24, James Earl Chaney, 21, and Andrew Goodman, 20. State v. Killen, No. 05-CR-0006-NS-G (Neshoba Co., Miss., Cir. Ct.). Killen will appeal.

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