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Ex-Klansman Charged With Murder

A former Ku Klux Klan leader was arrested Thursday on a murder charge in a revived investigation of the 32-year-old firebombing death of civil rights leader Vernon Dahmer.

Sam Bowers, 73, was led in handcuffs into the Forrest County jail by investigators for the state attorney general's office, while 55-year-old poultry company executive Charles Noble was arrested and a third suspect, 72-year-old Deavours Nix, turned himself in. Bowers and Noble face murder and arson charges.

Nix, who has lung cancer, was escorted by family members and carried an oxygen tank to his arraignment. He was charged with arson and released on his own recognizance because of his health.

Authorities reopened the case 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.

Bowers was imperial wizard of the secretive White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan during the racially turbulent 1960s. The White Knights were linked to a number of firebombings, murders and harassment of civil rights leaders in Mississippi.

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, 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, who operates a coin-operated amusement business, has said he is innocent. Notes taken from FBI files reveal that an informant reported on June 17, 1968, about a month after Bowers' arson trial, that the former imperial wizard admitted that Klansmen "had contacted three jurors."

"One juror said no, the other said ... doubtful, and the third said yes to fixing the trial," the notes allege. Jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of a guilty verdict, and a mistrial was declared. Bowers was never retried.

This is the first revival of a Mississippi civil rights case since a jury in 1994 convicted white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith in the 1963 murder of civil right leader Medgar Evers.

Mississippi law provides no statute of limitations on murder. Lawrence Arrington, Bowers' attorney, said the charges were politically motivated and predicted another mistrial."Hung jury ... it's been that way every time," Arrington said.

By Jay Hughes