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Jury Selected in Race-Linked School Blaze

October 18, 1995|From Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A racially mixed jury was picked Tuesday in the case against a black activist's son accused of burning down a rural high school whose white principal had condemned mixed-race dating at the prom.

Four blacks and eight whites will hear the federal case against Christopher Lynn Johnson.

Randolph County High School in Wedowee burned last year after months of racial turmoil.

Johnson, a 25-year-old poultry plant worker, is charged with arson and possession of a destructive device--the fuel-soaked bag that started the blaze.

Johnson's father, the Rev. Emmett Johnson, who formed what he called a Black Panther Militia chapter in Wedowee days before the 1994 fire, contends that authorities targeted his son because of the minister's activism.

Prosecutors said they have secretly recorded conversations in which Johnson admitted setting the fire. A key witness is expected to be Johnson's ex-wife, who told investigators that he shared his plan with her.

The charges carry a combined total of up to 30 years in prison.

Wedowee was plunged into turmoil in 1994 when Principal Hulond Humphries said he would cancel the prom if mixed-race couples planned to attend. Also, a mixed-race student, Revonda Bowen, said he called her a "mistake."

Humphries later said he feared the presence of mixed-race couples could lead to violence. He denied making the "mistake" remark, but the girl received $25,000 to settle her lawsuit against school officials.

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