updated 6/29/2005 8:09:11 PM ET 2005-06-30T00:09:11

Two senators on Wednesday said they want the Justice Department to form a unit that would focused on unsolved murders from the civil rights era.

It would be patterned after the department’s Office of Special Investigations, which since 1979 has focused on finding and deporting former Nazis who are living in the United States.

Sens. Jim Talent, R-Mo., and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said the unit they are pushing for would investigate and prosecute pre-1970 deaths motivated by racial hatred.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the proposal.

‘It's never too late’
Last week, a Mississippi court sentenced 80-year-old former Klansman Edgar Ray Killen to 60 years in jail for the slayings of three civil rights workers in 1964. Killen is the latest in a string of elderly suspects tried for crimes committed at a time when justice was out of reach for many blacks.

“The message is, it’s never too late to bring a killer to justice,” Talent said at a news conference.

The senators’ proposal would create an unsolved crimes section within Justice’s civil rights division to work with state and local law enforcement officials.

While the office would focus on unsolved murders, which have no statute of limitations, other civil rights violations would be referred to state or federal prosecutors, Talent said.

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