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Former KKK leader convicted of 1966 murder

bowers
Bowers, left, is escorted into court Monday  
August 21, 1998
Web posted at: 3:21 p.m. EDT (1921 GMT)

HATTIESBURG, Mississippi (CNN) -- Former Ku Klux Klan Wizard Sam Bowers was found guilty of murder on Friday in the firebomb killing of a civil rights activist 32 years ago.

Bowers, now 73, faces an automatic sentence of life in prison for masterminding the arson attack that killed Vernon Dahmer in his home.

Bowers had been brought to trial four previous times in the killing, and each time all-white juries were unable to agree on a verdict. The jury this time was made up of six whites, five African-Americans and an Asian-American.

In closing arguments Thursday, prosecutor Bob Hilfrich said that, although the firebombing that killed Dahmer happened in 1966, "justice delayed is not justice denied".

Bowers defense attorney, Travis Buckley, said Bowers was the victim of aspiring politicians and an aggressive media, which pursued the case through repeated trials.

"That's not justice, that's persecution," Buckley said.

Dahmer, his lungs seared by flames, died in his wife's arms hours after two carloads of Klansmen shot up and bombed their home. Prosecutors say Dahmer, an NAACP official, was killed for helping fellow blacks register to vote by letting them pay their poll tax at his grocery store.

newspaper
A newspaper headline tells the story of the 1966 firebombing  

Prosecution witnesses said Bowers ordered the firebombing and then bragged about it.

"Look at what my boys did to that Dahmer nigger for me," former Klansman and one-time FBI informant Robert Earl Wilson quoted Bowers as saying while holding up a newspaper account of the attack.

Cathy Lucy, a KKK leader's widow and a surprise witness, testified she was present when Bowers made the comment. She described him as "smiling and jubilant".

Klansman Deavours Nix's testimony on Thursday was at the core of the defense of Bowers. Sitting in a wheelchair and hooked up to an oxygen tank, Nix denied that Bowers ordered the death of the black store owner.

"I never heard a racial slur or a threat come from him," said Nix, who is awaiting trial on an arson charge in the Dahmer case. "Sam was a gentleman at all times."

Bowers has served jail time, but not in the Dahmer killing. He went to prison for six years for one of the slayings of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County in 1964.

Correspondent Brian Cabell contributed to this report.
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