Justice Late, But Justice Still

Bob Stringer, KKK informant
When a crime is left unpunished it can gather history's dust until it's forgotten—an example of when time and justice are enemies.

But CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports on a case in which the passing of decades actually led to justice in an old murder case.

At one time—in very different times—Sam Bowers was a powerful man.

But two years ago, the former Imperial Wizard of the Mississippi Ku Klux Klan was sent to prison for murder. It was one of the most infamous killings in the state's history.

"That's a night I can't forget," says Ellie Dahmer. It was the night she became a widow.

On the night of January 10, 1966, group of Klansmen set fire to the Dahmer house and killed her husband Vernon, because he was registering black voters.

"The house was on fire, shots was coming in, you could see the fire moving, it moved so fast," Mrs. Dahmer recalls.

Despite strong evidence against Bowers, four juries in the '60s failed to convict him.

But a case that marked one of the low points became a turning point in the state's history when Sam Bowers was led away.

"Mississippi had changed, and left Sam Bowers behind," says Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

Sam Bowers was found guilty largely because Bob Stringer started feeling guilty. Stringer worked for Bowers and watched as the Dahmer murder was planned.

"In the '60s you didn't do a whole lotta talkin'," Stringer says now.

As time passed, times changed for Mississippi and Bob Stringer. The one-time Klan supporter became an informant.

"I went through a lot of changes in my life at the time. I felt like I had to undo some wrongs in the past," Stringer says.

Across the South prosecutors are trying to undo some of the most heinous wrongs of the past.

In Birmingham, Ala., murder charges have been filed against two former Klansmen for bombing a black church and killing four young girls in 1963.

And now the State of Mississippi wants to file murder charges in another case that shocked the nation--the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Miss.

And who's in the middle of that case? Former Klan backer Bob Stringer, who has a lot to say about his former mentor, Sam Bowers.

"Sam was real upset about the civil rights workers that was getting blacks registered to vote," Stringer says.

Some veterans of the violent times of the past, like Georgia Congressman John Lewis, say it's about time the cases came to trial.

"It is good for the cause of justice, but it's good for history's sake to know what happened, how it happened," says Lewis, whose record as a civil rights worker dates back to that violent period in the '60s.

Getting guilty verdicts may be impossible because so much time has passed since the killings. But many activists say the effort may be enough—that sometimes justice is more about getting answers than getting convictions.