Woman says FBI made up statement in 1963 bombing

Sunday, May 19, 2002

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A former FBI informant testified Saturday that she never told the agency she saw Bobby Frank Cherry plant the bomb that blew up a church at the height of the civil rights era and killed four black girls, contradicting a 1964 agency report.

The FBI report quoted Mary Frances Cunningham, who worked for the bureau after the 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, as saying she saw Cherry place the bomb at the church. The report also said she witnessed Cherry and three other Ku Klux Klan suspects sitting in a car near the church the morning of the bombing.

As the defense began calling witnesses Saturday, Cunningham said she never gave the FBI that information.

Cunningham is the sister-in-law of Robert Chambliss, a Klan member charged in the bombing and convicted in 1977. He died in prison. While an informant, Cunningham said she told the FBI information she learned from Chambliss' wife.

Cherry, 71, a retired trucker from Mabank, Texas, is charged with murder in the deaths of four girls on a Sunday morning. He faces life in prison if convicted. Defense attorney Mickey Johnson called only three witnesses in an abbreviated weekend session. He is expected to rest his case Monday, and jurors could get the case by Tuesday.

Prosecutors finished calling witnesses against Cherry on Friday. Their case included haunting testimony from the lone survivor of five girls who went into a church lounge on a Sunday morning to get ready for services.

Sarah Collins Rudolph, now 51, was temporarily blinded in the blast that brought debris and glass crashing down on the girls in the basement lounge of the church. The Sept. 15, 1963 explosion killed Rudolph's sister, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, all 14, and Denise McNair, 11.

Rudolph said she was standing at a sink washing her hands and watching her sister tie the sash on Denise's dress when she heard a loud noise and was blinded by glass flying into her eyes.

"I began to call Addie. I said 'Addie, Addie, Addie,"' Rudolph said.

"Did your sister ever answer," prosecutor Doug Jones asked.

"No sir, she didn't," Rudolph said.

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