JACKSON, Miss. – Former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Samuel H. Bowers, who was serving a life sentence for the 1966 bombing death of a civil rights leader, died Sunday in a state penitentiary, officials said. He was 82.
He died of cardio pulmonary arrest, said Mississippi Department of Corrections spokeswoman Tara Booth.
Bowers was convicted in August of 1998 of ordering the assassination of Vernon Dahmer, a civil rights activist who had fought for black rights during Mississippi's turbulent struggle for racial equality.
"He was supposed to stay there until he died. I guess he fulfilled that," Vernon Dahmer's widow, Ellie Dahmer, told The Associated Press on Sunday. "He lived a lot longer than Vernon Dahmer did."
Bowers died at approximately 11:30 a.m. in the Mississippi State Penitentiary Hospital in Parchman, a sprawling prison carved out of the cotton and soybean fields in the impoverished Mississippi Delta, Booth said.
Vernon Dahmer died at the age of 58 after being fire-bombed outside his home.
Two carloads of Klansmen arrived at Dahmer's Hattiesburg-area home in the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 10, 1966. Dahmer was able keep the Klansmen at bay with a shotgun while his family fled, according to court testimony during a four-day trial in Forrest County Circuit Court in 1998. He died in his wife's arms about 12 hours after the attack.
During the trial, prosecutors claimed Bowers ordered the Dahmer attack after becoming enraged that Dahmer was trying to register blacks to vote.
Bowers' lawyers claimed he was "sacrificed to the media" to further the political ambitions of then Attorney General Mike Moore.
Earlier trials for Bowers, including at least two before all-white juries, ended in mistrials. A 1968 state jury split 11-1 in favor of guilty, while a 1969 jury split 10-2 in favor of conviction.
Dahmer's widow said the death brings little closure to a wound she has nursed for decades.
"It won't bring Vernon back," she said. "I lost a wonderful husband and my children lost a father. We lost a community leader. We lost a Christian man who saw good in people."