Ex-Klansman Bobby Frank Cherry Convicted of Murder
by Jay Reeves Associated Press
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- In the final trial stemming from one of the most
crimes of the civil rights era, a jury convicted former Ku
Bobby Frank Cherry of first-degree murder Wednesday in
a church bombing
that killed four black girls in 1963.
The 71-year-old Cherry faces an automatic sentence of life in prison.
Asked by the judge if he had any comment, Cherry stood, pointed at
and said: "This whole bunch lied all the way through this
"I told the truth," he said. "I don't know why I'm going to jail for nothing."
The jury of nine whites and three blacks deliberated less than a day
returning the verdict after a weeklong trial marked by
witnesses with admittedly
faded memories and haunting images from the
nation's segregationist past.
Cherry was accused of being part of a group of Klansmen who plotted
bomb Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, a downtown rallying spot for
against racial segregation in the early 1960s.
He is the final suspect to be tried in the blast. In the nearly four
since the bombing jolted the nation's conscience on a Sunday
other ex-Klansmen were convicted and a fourth died
without being charged.
The bomb killed 11-year-old Denise McNair and three 14-year-olds:
Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley. Their
relatives sat on
the front row of the courtroom throughout the trial,
and several testified.
After the verdict, many hugged the prosecutors.
Eunice Davis, the sister of Cynthia Westerly, walked out of the
in tears, saying, "It's time, it's time."
The bomb shook the downtown area shortly after 10 a.m. as church
were preparing for a youth-led Sunday worship service on
Sept. 15, 1963.
The city's public schools had been integrated a few
days earlier after
a six-year court fight, and tensions had been
running high for much of
By killing young girls at church for worship, the blast exposed the
depth of racial hatred that black protesters faced in the
Deep South and
helped bring racial moderates off the sidelines of the
civil rights struggle.
Within two years, as protests spread in the
wake of the bombing, federal
civil rights and voting rights laws were
passed by Congress.
Denise's mother, Maxine McNair, described for the jury how she was in
church when the bomb exploded.
"My first thought was, 'My baby, my baby,'" she said.
Evidence showed Cherry was a suspect within days of the bombing, and
moved his family to Texas in the early 1970s as authorities in
continued questioning him about the bombing. A retired
trucker, he most
recently lived in the town of Mabank, southeast of
Cherry always denied involvement in the bombing, both publicly and in
series of interviews with investigators.
But prosecutors reopened the case in 1995 and found five estranged
members and acquaintances who said Cherry boasted of his
the infamous crime, the deadliest single attack in the
civil rights era.
"He said he lit the fuse," testified ex-wife Willadean Brogdon.
Added granddaughter Teresa Stacy: "He said he helped blow up a bunch
niggers back in Birmingham."
Prosecutors also presented witnesses and secretly recorded tapes to
that Cherry was associated with ex-Klansmen Thomas Blanton Jr.
"Dynamite Bob" Chambliss, the two men previously convicted
in the bombing.
Defense attorneys argued that the links meant nothing. Everyone in
Klan could have been a suspect, they said. Defense attorney
said those who claimed to have heard Cherry confess
were all liars out
to get a mentally addled old man.
"Can any of these witnesses have any credibility with the jury?" Johnson
Cherry did not testify. His trial was delayed about a year by
over his mental competency, and Johnson said his client
easily could have
become confused on the stand if asked to testify.
"We determined that putting Mr. Cherry on the stand would be like
an unarmed man," Johnson said.
For years, it looked like none of the bombing suspects would be
to court. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover concluded in 1965 that
racial climate meant a guilty verdict was highly
unlikely, and the government
closed the case in 1968 without any
A state investigation was reopened in the 1970s under former Alabama
General Bill Baxley, and Chambliss was convicted in 1977 and
to life. He died in prison.
Federal authorities reopened the case in 1995 at the urging of black
troubled by the lack of prosecution in the girls' deaths.
Cherry and Blanton were indicted in 2000, and Blanton was convicted
sentenced to life imprisonment last year. The fourth main
Cash, died in 1994 without being ever charged.