- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) As photos of the young victims flashed in the courtroom, prosecutors urged jurors yesterday to convict 71-year-old Bobby Frank Cherry of murder for a 1963 church bombing that killed four black girls.
"The time for justice is here. It's way overdue," prosecutor Don Cochran told the mostly white panel during his closing argument. He called the deadliest attack of the civil rights era an act of "pure hate."
A defense attorney conceded in his summation that Mr. Cherry was a violent racist, but said that was no reason to convict the former Ku Klux Klansman on largely circumstantial evidence.
The case then went to the jury, which retired for the evening.
Mr. Cherry is the final suspect to stand trial in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, a gathering spot for blacks protesting segregation in Birmingham in the early 1960s. The bomb went off on Sept. 15, 1963, five days after the city's public schools were integrated.
The bomb killed 11-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley.
Mr. Cochran said the girls were getting ready for a youth-led worship service that Sunday morning. One was tying another's sash when the bomb went off.
"Youth Sunday never happened. It didn't happen because it was destroyed by this defendant's hate and the hate of his Klan buddies," Mr. Cochran said, his voice wavering.
Mr. Cherry repeatedly changed his story about his whereabouts around the time of the bombing, Mr. Cochran said, yet he also boasted about being involved in the explosion to family members and even a casual acquaintance.
The prosecutor also said Mr. Cherry tried to mislead investigators about his ties to Robert Chambliss and Thomas Blanton Jr., two former Klansmen previously convicted in the bombing.
Evidence indicated Mr. Cherry and the others planned or built the bomb at a downtown business, Modern Sign Co., two nights before the explosion, the prosecutor said. Mr. Cherry himself said he was there that night.
Mr. Cherry sat silently at the defense table, his head cocked as he occasionally glanced at the prosecutor.
Defense attorney Mickey Johnson argued that Mr. Cherry had nothing to do with the bombing and reminded jurors his client was not on trial for his beliefs.
"It seems like more times has been spent here throwing around the n-word than proving what happened in September 1963," Mr. Johnson said.
"Remember, we are talking about a time when the governor of the state was elected on a platform of 'segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.'"
The defense contended the charges resulted mainly from an informant's lie and statements by estranged, unreliable family members who claimed to have heard him talking about the bombing. His attorney said convicting Mr. Cherry on that basis "would detract from the memories of those children."


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