Lawrence A. Rainey

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Sheriff Lawrence Rainey being escorted by two FBI agents to the Federal Court house in Meridian, Mississippi; October 1964.

Lawrence Andrew Rainey (March 2, 1923 – November 8, 2002) was the elected Sheriff of Neshoba County, Mississippi from 1963 to 1968. He gained notoriety for allegedly being involved in the June 1964 deaths (and the subsequent coverups) of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman, as depicted in the movie Mississippi Burning. He was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Rainey started his career as a police officer working in Philadelphia, Mississippi. In October 1959, he shot and killed a black motorist who was getting out of his car on a violation, but he was not prosecuted. He subsequently ran for and was elected to the office of Sheriff in 1963 and has been quoted as positioning himself as "the man who can cope with situations that might arise", a veiled reference to the racial tension in the area at the time. One of his deputies was Cecil Price.

On June 21, 1964, when the three Civil Rights workers were murdered, Lawrence was visiting his wife at the hospital. It is not clear, and was not proven in the subsequent trial, when he knew about the incident. It was alleged that he learned of the murder early the following morning and deliberately covered it up.

On July 18, 1964, Rainey sued NBC, the Lamar Life Broadcasting Company, Southern Television Corporation, and Buford W. Posey for one million dollars for slander due to an interview which Posey gave to NBC during the investigation of the disappearance of the civil rights workers. This lawsuit was unsuccessful.

On January 15, 1965, Rainey and seventeen others learned that they were indicted. Because there was at that time no federal murder statute, they were charged with violation of the three men's civil rights. In 1967, the case went to trial in federal court, and Rainey was acquitted, though six others were convicted.

Despite his acquittal, Rainey was stigmatized by his role in the events. After leaving office in 1968, he was subsequently unable to get reelected or to work in law enforcement. His later careers included periods as auto mechanic and as a security guard in Kentucky and Mississippi. He later came to blame the FBI for preventing him from finding and keeping jobs. He suffered from throat cancer and tongue cancer, and died in 2002 at the age of 79.

In the 1988 film Mississippi Burning, the character of Sheriff Ray Stuckey was a fictionalized depiction of Lawrence Rainey. The part was played by Gailard Sartain.

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