Defense rests without Cherry taking stand in church-bombing

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Defense lawyers for a former Klansman accused in a 1963 church bombing that killed four black girls rested their case Monday without calling him to testify.

Final statements are set for today in the trial of Bobby Frank Cherry, 71, accused of helping a band of Ku Klux Klansman plant a powerful bomb that exploded at the church where civil rights demonstrators had been gathering for protests against segregation.

In the last day of testimony, jurors heard two of Cherry's grandsons and a pastor deny that Cherry ever took responsibility for the blast at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. An ex-wife and four others testified last week for the prosecution that they heard Cherry admit taking part in the bombing.

Facing life sentence

Cherry, who could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted, is the final suspect to stand trial in the bombing, the deadliest act of violence against the civil rights movement. The blast killed Denise McNair, 11; along with Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, all 14.

Defense lawyers said they decided not to call Cherry to deny the charges because he suffers from dementia and gets confused easily.

"We determined that putting Mr. Cherry on the stand would be like dueling an unarmed man," Johnson said.

A witness whose testimony helped convict two other Klansmen in the bombing told the jury Monday he never saw Cherry with those men.

Thomas Blanton Jr. and Robert "Dynamite Bob" Chambliss were convicted of murder.

In their trials, Bill Jackson said he saw them putting something in Blanton's car the night before the explosion, but said Monday that Cherry wasn't there.

Jackson also said he did not see Cherry at a Klan recruitment meeting he attended around the same time.

"I met him this morning for the very first time," Jackson said.

Cherry and Blanton were indicted in the bombing in 2000; Blanton is serving a life term after being convicted last year. Chambliss was convicted in 1977 and died in prison, and a fourth Klan suspect died in 1994 without being charged.

Cherry's attorneys say witnesses who testified against their client have lied and the government built the case on a lie told by an informant in 1964.

"I didn't hear any two (witnesses) say the same story," defense lawyer Mickey Johnson said outside court.

Government lawyers acknowledged inconsistencies with their case, but they described such problems as routine, particularly in an old case where memories have faded.

"There's inconsistencies in every case. It's the jury's job to reconcile it," said Doug Jones, the lead prosecutor.

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