By William F. West and Fredie Carmichael / staff writers
Saturday, Nov. 9, 2002
Former Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Andrew Rainey Sr., who was acquitted of charges related to the 1964 slaying of three civil rights workers, died Friday at his home in Meridian.
Rainey was 79.
Rainey's wife, Juanita, reached at her home, was reluctant to talk about her husband and his death. She said Rainey had been battling throat cancer before dying.
Rainey gained prominence in the mid-1960s when he was accused of conspiring with others to violate the federal civil rights of activists James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.
The trio were found murdered June 21, 1964, in rural Neshoba County. The station wagon they were driving was burned and their bodies were later found buried in an earthen dam.
Chaney was from Meridian, while Goodman and Schwerner were from New York; they were part of the Freedom Summer 1964 drive to register blacks to vote in Mississippi.
Rainey was acquitted of the civil rights charges in an October 1967 federal court trial in downtown Meridian. Seven others who were on trial with Rainey also were acquitted.
But Rainey's chief deputy Cecil Price, Ku Klux Klan leader Sam Bowers and five others were convicted. Jurors reached no verdict on three others.
Mississippi never brought murder charges against anyone in the case. Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, however, has been re-examining the case.
Moore declined to comment Friday on Rainey's death.
Goodman's mother, Dr. Carolyn Goodman, 87, and a retired psychologist in New York City, wondered how Rainey's death will affect the re-opening of the Neshoba County case.
Others in Meridian said little about Rainey's death. Obie Clark, president of the Meridian chapter of NAACP, said he respects a person in death "no matter what."
Rainey is a former Philadelphia police officer. The Stetson-hat wearing, tobacco-chewing lawman was elected Neshoba County sheriff in 1963; his term ended in November 1967.
Unable to find work in law enforcement after being sheriff, Rainey ended up in Meridian working as a security guard at a supermarket and a Meridian shopping center.
Staff writer Fredie Carmichael contributed to this report