JACKSON, Miss. – Former Mississippi Gov. William Waller Sr., who as a district attorney twice unsuccessfully prosecuted the man eventually convicted of killing civil rights leader Medgar Evers, has died. He was 85.

Waller’s law office said he died Wednesday, but declined to release other details. Waller died at St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson, where he was admitted Tuesday night.

The Democrat served from 1972-76 – a time when Mississippi governors were limited to one term.

Waller also served as district attorney in Hinds County in the 1960s and twice tried to get a conviction against Byron De La Beckwith for Evers’ assassination. In 1994, prosecutor Bobby DeLaughter was able to secure a guilty verdict when blacks were able to serve on the jury.

“Under the circumstances, I think we did the very best job that we could,” Waller said in a 2001 interview with The Associated Press “I think the jury was taking the position that they wanted to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, to a moral certainty, and a lot of jurors interpret that as eyewitness, direct proof.”

Charles Evers, Medgar’s brother, said it’s unlikely Beckwith would have been convicted some 30 years later if it weren’t for Waller laying the foundation with the two trials in the 1960s.

“He was a true devoted Mississippian who believed in law and order. He believed that if you committed a crime you paid the price. He tried Byron Del Beckwith twice, which was unheard of in those days to prosecute a white man for doing anything to a black man.

“He did everything he could. He just couldn’t get a conviction,” Evers said.

Gov. Haley Barbour said in a statement that “Mississippians have lost a great leader who launched an era of change that continues to this day.”

Barbour presented Waller with the Mississippi Medal of Service in 2009. “He deserved it and more,” Barbour said Wednesday.

Waller grew up outside Oxford in a farming family, and hitchhiked to Memphis to get his college education. He earned a law degree back home at the University of Mississippi, married his sweetheart, Carroll, and set up a law practice in Jackson.

He returned to that law practice once his term as governor ended — interrupting it to run for the U.S. Senate in 1978 and again for governor in 1987.

In 1973, Waller vetoed funding for a segregationist watchdog agency, the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, putting it out of business.

Waller appointed the first black member of the state College Board.

During Waller’s administration, Mississippi’s three historically black colleges — Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State — were elevated to university status. Two smaller, predominantly white schools, Delta State College and Mississippi State College for Women, got the same boost.

Waller also concentrated on improving the economy and education in his state.