- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) A trial that could close one of the ugliest chapters of the civil rights era the 1963 church bombing that killed four black girls opened yesterday with a prosecutor saying Bobby Frank Cherry boasted of the crime as if it were "a Klan medal."
"He has worn this crime on his chest like a badge of honor," prosecutor Robert Posey told the mostly white jury. "He said his only regret was that more people hadn't died in this bombing."
An attorney for the 71-year-old former Ku Klux Klansman countered that everyone who claims to have heard Mr. Cherry's boasts including a granddaughter and a former brother-in-law is "inherently unreliable."
"He did not say this," defense attorney Mickey Johnson said.
Mr. Cherry could get life in prison if convicted.
The trial represents one of the biggest pieces of unfinished business from the civil rights movement. The bombing galvanized protesters and helped bring about new civil rights laws, but it also haunted Birmingham for almost four decades.
The girls were in the basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church, getting ready for a Sunday morning service, when the dynamite bomb tore through a wall on Sept. 15, 1963. The city's public schools had been desegregated five days earlier, and the church had become a rallying point for marchers, including waves of children.
Killed were Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley, all 14, and Denise McNair, 11.
Mr. Cherry and other Klansmen were suspected from the start, but the FBI was reluctant to press the case in the segregationist city.
It was more than a decade before the first suspect was tried, and nearly two more decades passed before the investigation was reopened after black ministers complained to the city's chief FBI agent in 1993.
A second suspect was convicted last year, but Mr. Cherry's trial was delayed when a judge ruled him mentally incompetent because of brain damage. The judge reversed himself after experts said Mr. Cherry was faking.
Mr. Cherry sat impassively at the defense table yesterday as the mother of one of the victims recalled hearing the powerful explosion while she was still at home.
"It was just an awful sound, like something shaking the world all over," said Alpha Robertson, seated in front of jurors in a wheelchair.
Denise's parents, Chris and Maxine McNair, sat at the front of the courtroom as testimony began.
In his opening statement, the prosecutor said that Mr. Cherry boasted to family members that he was responsible for the bombing. The bombing, Mr. Posey said, was Mr. Cherry's "claim to fame."


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