- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) In the final trial stemming from one of the most notorious crimes of the civil rights era, a jury convicted former Ku Klux Klansman Bobby Frank Cherry of first-degree murder yesterday in a 1963 church bombing that killed four black girls.
Cherry, 71, immediately received an automatic sentence of life.
Asked by the judge if he had any comment, Cherry stood, pointed at prosecutors and said: "This whole bunch lied all the way through this thing.
"I told the truth," he said angrily. "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 before 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 to bomb the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, a downtown rallying spot for protests against racial segregation in the early 1960s.
He is the final defendant to be tried for the crime. In the nearly four decades since the bombing, two 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: Addie 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 Wesley, walked out of the courtroom in tears, saying, "It's time, it's time."
"We feel like we can go on with our lives now," said another victim's sister, Junie Collins Peevy.
Cherry's family appeared devastated as he was taken away, but they left the courthouse without comment.
The bomb shook the downtown area shortly after 10 a.m. as church members 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 tension had been running high for much of the year.
Denise's mother, Maxine McNair, described for the jury how she was in the 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 he moved his family to Texas in the early 1970s as authorities in Alabama continued questioning him about the bombing. A retired trucker, he most recently lived in the town of Mabank, southeast of Dallas.
Cherry always denied involvement in the bombing, both publicly and in a series of interviews with investigators.
But prosecutors reopened the case in 1995 and found five estranged family members and acquaintances who said Cherry boasted of his involvement in the 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" the black girls "in Birmingham."
Prosecutors also presented witnesses and secretly recorded tapes to show that Cherry was associated with ex-Klansmen Thomas Blanton Jr. and Robert "Dynamite Bob" Chambliss, the two men previously convicted in the bombing.
Defense attorneys argued that the links meant nothing. Everyone in the Klan could have been a suspect, they said. Defense attorney Mickey Johnson 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?" Mr. Johnson asked.
Cherry did not testify. His trial was delayed about a year by questions over his mental competence, and Mr. Johnson said his client easily could have become confused on the stand if asked to testify.


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