ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A federal judge Friday rejected a $2 million lawsuit by the family of slain civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo, ruling the FBI and its informer were not responsible for the Ku Klux Klan's fatal ambush 18 years ago on an Alabama highway.
U.S. District Judge Charles Joiner's decision was a bitter defeat for Mrs. Liuzzo's five children, who contended the FBI was liable for their mother's death because informer Gary Thomas Rowe either shot her or failed to prevent it.
'I am disappointed and angry,' said Mrs. Liuzzo's son, Tony. 'This is not just a defeat for our family but for the American people ...
'My mother's name has been rectified. She was a heroine, a martyr. She gave her life for her country. It's just a shame our government officials didn't recognize that here. The fight is not over.'
Dean Robb, chief counsel for the Liuzzos, said he was 'shocked by this opinion. We think it's an incredible lack of facing the truth in this case.' He vowed to 'continue to fight,' possibly through an appeal to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
Liuzzo, 27, said Rowe 'was a demented maniac and he was let loose by the FBI.' He said he would 'pray for his (Rowe's) soul because he'll burn for it.'
Ann Robertson, the government's chief attorney and now in private practice in Birmingham, Ala,. called it a 'just decision.'
'I felt strongly, both professionally and personally, that the FBI should not be held liable for her (Mrs. Liuzzo's) death,' she said.
A Justice Department spokesman in Washington said the government was 'delighted' with the ruling in the $2 million lawsuit because it 'vindicates the FBI.'
In his 16-page opinion, Joiner said he was convinced by Ms. Robertson's argument that Rowe was a legitimate informer. He said he was convinced that Rowe did not kill Mrs. Liuzzo, but actually helped the FBI solve the Liuzzo slaying with his testimony against three Klansmen.
'The evidence fails to show that Rowe was in concert with those who did the killing and there is nothing to indicate that the FBI as the directing agent had anything in mind but the acquisition of valuable information about a subversive organization,' said Joiner, who heard the case without a jury.
Mrs. Liuzzo, a 39-year-old white Detroit housewife, was shot to death March 25, 1965, while driving a black male civil rights worker back to Selma, Ala., after the historic Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march.
The shots were fired from a car on Highway 80 carrying Rowe and three Ku Klux Klansmen.
Two of the Klansmen insisted Rowe was the triggerman.