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Closing Arguments Set in Klan Case

August 21, 1998

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) _ The Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi didn’t deliver threats and firebombs _ the group handed out fruit baskets and cash to the poor at Christmas, according to a Klansman defending a Klan leader charged with ordering a brutal 1966 murder.

While prosecutors said there was no way jurors would believe such a portrayal of a group infamous for racist rhetoric and lynchings, Deavours Nix’s testimony on Thursday was the core of the defense of Samuel H. Bowers, the former imperial wizard of White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Bowers, 73, faces life in prison if convicted of planning the firebombing death of civil rights activist Vernon Dahmers.

Nix, sitting in a wheelchair and hooked up to an oxygen tank, denied that Bowers ordered the death of the black store owner.

``I never heard a racial slur or threat come from him,″ said Nix, who is awaiting trial on an arson charge in the Dahmer case. ``He didn’t use profane language. Sam Bowers was a gentleman at all times.″

Attorney General Mike Moore scoffed at Nix’s testimony. ``That jury’s not going to fall for that. The Klan is not a benevolent organization,″ he said.

The prosecution and defense wrapped up their cases Thursday, with closing arguments to begin today.

Prosecution witnesses said Bowers, 73, ordered the firebombing and then bragged about it.

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

``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.″

This is the fifth time Bowers has been tried on charges related to Dahmer’s death. Four previous juries _ at least two all-white _ deadlocked.

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. Bowers could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted in the Dahmer case.

The defense hoped to discredit the state’s star witnesses _ former Klansmen Billy Roy Pitts and T. Webber Rogers. Pitts, a 54-year-old former furniture upholsterer, testified that he took part in the Dahmer raid and served nearly four years in federal prison. Rogers said he went on a ``dry run″ to the Dahmer home before the actual bombing.

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