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Judge Postpones Trial in 1963 Fatal Church Bombing

April 11, 2001|From Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A judge Tuesday indefinitely postponed the murder trial of a former Ku Klux Klansman accused in a 1963 church bombing that killed four black girls, citing the 71-year-old defendant's medical condition.

Circuit Judge James Garrett refused to throw out the charges, however, and said jury selection in the case against a second former Klansman also charged in the blast will begin Monday as scheduled.

Garrett's decision to postpone the trial of longtime suspect Bobby Frank Cherry raises the possibility he might never be brought to trial in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the deadliest act of violence against the civil rights movement.

The judge cited unspecified "medical reasons." But Cherry's lawyer, Mickey Johnson, has described him as having heart problems and other ailments, mental and physical.

"The main issue is mental competency, whether his mental state is such that he can assist his lawyers," said U.S. Atty. Doug Jones, who was given permission to get an independent evaluation of Cherry.

Cherry and Thomas Blanton Jr., 62, are accused of planting dynamite outside the church, which had become a gathering place for civil rights activists. The blast on Sept. 15, 1963, a Sunday morning, killed Denise McNair, 11, and Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson, all 14. The bombing, which came just months after police used dogs and fire hoses to drive back black marchers, galvanized the civil rights movement.

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