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Saturday, December 31, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Collie Leroy Wilkins Jr., Klansman

AP

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Collie Leroy Wilkins Jr., a Ku Klux Klansman convicted in one of the most infamous slayings of the civil-rights era, died at 51.

Mr. Wilkins died Dec. 23 and was buried Tuesday, his family said. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Mr. Wilkins was the last survivor of three Klansmen accused in the 1965 shooting death of Viola Liuzzo, a white Detroit housewife and mother who went South and volunteered to help register blacks to vote.

Liuzzo was shot from a passing car on a highway as she drove a black marcher home after the Selma-to-Montgomery voting-rights march. An FBI informer in the car claimed Mr. Wilkins was the triggerman.

An all-white state jury acquitted Mr. Wilkins in 1965 of murder. Later that year, Mr. Wilkins was convicted in federal court along with William Orville Eaton and Eugene Thomas of violating Liuzzo's civil rights. Mr. Wilkins served about seven years of a 10-year sentence.

In his later years, he distanced himself from the Klan and worked as a mechanic.

After getting out of prison, Mr. Wilkins and Thomas claimed that the informer, Gary Thomas Rowe Jr., did the shooting. Rowe was indicted, but a judge threw out the case on the basis that prosecutors had waited too long to charge Rowe.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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