ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- An FBI inspector testifying on the 18th anniversary of the slaying of civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo said Friday the FBI was under White House 'pressure' to solve the case and paid its informer $10,000 for his help.
Mrs. Liuzzo, a white housewife from Detroit, was shot to death March 25, 1965, on Highway 80 near Selma, Ala., after the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march. She was driving a black civil rights worker back to Selma.
The fatal shots were fired from a car carrying FBI informer Gary Thomas Rowe and three Ku Klux Klansmen.
Mrs. Liuzzo's five children have filed a $2 million lawsuit against the FBI, claiming Rowe either shot their mother or failed to prevent the shooting.
U.S. District Judge Charles Joiner, hearing the case without a jury, agreed Friday to admit conflicting lie detector tests into evidence. Rowe and two of the three Klansmen have taken polygraph examinations in recent years. The third Klansman is dead.
Rowe has accused Klansman Collie Leroy Wilkins of killing Mrs. Liuzzo, 39. Both Wilkins and a second Klansman, Eugene Thomas, have identified Rowe as the triggerman.
FBI Inspector James L. McGovern, in a videotaped deposition, said the FBI was under intense pressure to make arrests in the case because President Lyndon B. Johnson wanted to make the announcement the following morning.
'We were under this pressure. We did have an 11 o'clock deadline,' said McGovern, who headed the FBI investigation in the Liuzzo murder.
McGovern said the FBI authorized him to pay Rowe $10,000 and relocation expenses to Hawaii as well as immunity from prosecution for his help in leading to the prosecution of the three Klansmen.
'I did recommend a payment of some $10,000 (to Rowe) following the successful prosecution,' McGovern testified.
Rowe was given immunity from prosecution. He now lives in Savannah, Ga., under an assumed name.
McGovern described Rowe as 'a volatile person' and added he would 'defy anyone to control him.'
'I would say he was difficult to control. I form that opinion just on my personal contact with him,' said McGovern.
After the slaying, McGovern said, 'I told him as far as I was concerned he was an accomplice.'
But Rowe's contact person in the FBI, Neil Shanahan, disagreed with McGovern's description. He refused on the stand to comment on the informer's stability.
When attorneys pointed out to Shanahan that FBI guidelines call for 'stability and reliability of informants,' he said, 'I could check his reliability better than I could check his stability.
Shanahan said Rowe 'had four guns that I know of,' but said he would have counseled the man against any violent action.
Shanahan said he was the person who told Rowe to go with the Klan on the day Mrs. Liuzzo was slain. 'He wanted to know whether I wanted him to go or not. I was in favor of it.'
McGovern said he interviewed Rowe the morning afterthe murder at the FBI's Birmingham, Ala., headquarters. He said he confiscated Rowe's gun, which he said had not been fired.
McGovern said Rowe showed him how he 'leaned out the window and simulated firing' at Mrs. Liuzzo's car.
'Rowe said he saw the glass shatter and (Mrs. Liuzzo's) car rolled off the road into an embankment,' the agent recalled. 'He said he had a gun and he simulated firing. A white woman was driving the car with a black male on the passenger side.
'He said someone said 'Let's go back and look.' And then Wilkins or Eaton said 'I know that M-F is dead.''
The three Klansmen were arrested the next day. They were acquitted of murder charges but later convicted of federal civil rights charges.