For some, the imprisonment of Bobby DeLaughter is a sad ending to the illustrious legal career of a civil rights “hero.” For others, it’s payback to the max.
DeLaughter, portrayed by Alec Baldwin in the 1996 movie "Ghosts of Mississippi,"is the prosecutor whose courtroom brilliance landed Ku Klux Klan member Byron De La Beckwith in jail in 1994, after more than four decades, for the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.
"Is it ever too late to do the right thing?" DeLaughter told the jury of eight Blacks and four Whites. "For the sake of justice and the hope of us as a civilized society, I sincerely hope and pray that it's not."
That closing argument, delivered in the De La Beckwith case, is still widely considered one of the most compelling in modern law. In fact, CNN reports, DeLaughter’s handling of this infamous case is considered the catalyst behind the reopening of scores of civil rights cold cases.
But DeLaughter is now in a Kentucky prison, where he will serve a year and a half for obstruction of justice after lying to an FBI agent about his role in a sweeping corruption probe into misdeeds within Mississippi’s judicial system.
While DeLaughter denies the accusations that he accepted bribes, committed mail fraud or that he was improperly influenced, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of obstruction of justice.
“It's enormously unfortunate for a person like Judge DeLaughter who, at the very least, accomplished heroic things with bringing Byron De La Beckwith to justice. And it's tragic for the people of Mississippi – that the end story here is that he is a corrupt judge in prison,” Matt Steffey, a law professor at Mississippi College School of Law, told CNN."
Charles Evers, the brother of Medgar Evers, expressed sadness over DeLaughter’s conviction and imprisonment.
"The man has now been destroyed, politically and economically. It's that serious," he told CNN, noting that he is raising money to help pay DeLaughter's expenses while he's in prison. "What can we do but fight for a man who fought for us?" he said. "I want DeLaughter to know I'm behind him 100 percent."
"The penalty he's paying is enormous, and I think it's sad and unfortunate,” DeLaughter's attorney, Tom Durkin, said. "Bobby DeLaughter remains a civil rights hero, and nothing is going to tarnish that.”
ut not everybody was sad to see DeLaughter carted off to prison.
During his sentencing in November, Byron De La Beckwith's son sat in the courtroom donning a red blazer with a Confederate flag pin, the same kind of pin his father sported at the 1994 trial.