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Reporter cracks open scores of civil rights-era cases

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Born in Texarkana, Texas, Mitchell was 5 years old when Klansmen in Philadelphia, Miss., kidnapped and killed three civil rights workers in 1964. A few years ago, Mitchell found himself eating whole fried catfish with the planner of that event, Edgar Ray "Preacher" Killen, an interview that became part of a series of stories – all of the same theme – that Mitchell has been steadily writing since he watched "Mississippi Burning," a movie about the murders, at its Jackson première in 1988. Mr. Killen was convicted of the crime in 2005 and will spend the rest of his life in prison. "He thought he was invincible," says Mitchell.

In the process, Mitchell, admired nationwide for his beat reporting skills, has received grudging respect – as well as hate mail – for his stories, workmanlike prose pegged to startling facts and quotes. He goes right to potential sources, often the accused men themselves, getting interviews that FBI agents failed to get, and piecing together alibis and testimony that later help lead to convictions. Being a Southerner himself has proved a boon, the reporter admits. Killen and his kin chased Northern reporters off his property after Killen's 2005 arrest.

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