Ex-Klansman Arrested for 1966 Death
May. 29, 1998
HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) _ It took 28 years to convict the man who killed civil rights leader Medgar Evers. The family of his colleague Vernon Dahmer hopes justice is finally catching up with his killers, too.
Dahmer's family said the recent conviction of Byron De La Beckwith in Evers' death encouraged them to push Mississippi investigators to reopen the case against suspects in Dahmer's death.
Former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers and two other men were jailed Thursday in the 1966 firebomb death of Dahmer, who was targeted because he offered to let blacks pay poll taxes at his store.
``When we saw the (Evers) case moving to success, that's when we started thinking maybe we've got a chance,'' said Vernon Dahmer Jr., who escaped the fire that killed his father.
Bowers, 73, one-time head of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and Charles Noble, 55, are accused of murder and arson under indictments shelved since the late 1960s and reactivated Wednesday.
A judge set bond for both at $200,000.
Deavours Nix, 72, was charged with arson and released on his own recognizance because he has lung cancer.
Bowers was tried four times in the case during the late 1960s _ three times in state court and once in federal court _ and set free when juries deadlocked.
Prosecutors say the renewed investigation has yielded new evidence they believe will mean a conviction this time. They won't give details other than to say it includes new witnesses. Dahmer's son Vernon Jr. told The New York Times the most important new evidence came from a man who came forward last year, saying he was a teen-age protege of Bowers and overheard him and Nix discuss the plot to bomb the Dahmer home.
``We want them to have a very, very speedy trial,'' Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore said. ``It's been 32 years and we think it's time justice is served.''
All three suspects are from Laurel, about 90 miles southeast of Jackson, the state capital.
Bowers was Imperial Wizard of the secretive White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan during the 1960s. The White Knights were linked to a number of firebombings, murders and harassment of civil rights leaders in Mississippi.
Bowers served six years in prison for federal convictions in another notorious case, the 1964 deaths of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Philadelphia, Miss.
Authorities said two carloads of Klansmen bombed the Dahmer family home Jan. 10, 1966, after the announcement that residents could pay their poll taxes at Dahmer's store near Hattiesburg. Dahmer (pronounced DAY mer), a 58-year-old official of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, returned fire through his front door while his wife and children escaped through a back window.
Juries convicted three men in the case. But Bowers, who was identified in testimony as masterminding the raid, was not among them. Bowers has said he is innocent.
Evers, field secretary for the NAACP, was gunned down in his driveway in 1963. Beckwith was tried twice in 1964, but both trials ended with deadlocked juries. The case was reopened and he was convicted in 1994.
The revived Dahmer investigation gathered steam following published reports in March that Bowers, in a conversation with an FBI informant, admitted tampering with a jury in 1968 to ensure he stayed out of prison for ordering the fatal firebombing.
``We're certainly glad they've got it to a point where it can be brought back to trial,'' widow Ellie Dahmer said from her house, built on the foundation of the one that was burned. ``There's a long way to go. This is just the beginning.''