May 1, 2001
KLANSMAN GUILTY OF MURDER IN 1963 ALABAMA CHURCH BLAST
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A former Ku Klux Klansman was convicted of murder
Tuesday for the 1963 church bombing that killed four black girls, the
deadliest single attack during the civil rights movement.
Thomas Blanton Jr., 62, was sentenced to life in prison by the same jury
that found him guilty after 2 1/2 hours of deliberations. Before he was
led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, he was asked if he had any
"I guess the good Lord will settle it on judgment day," he said.
Blanton was accused of helping other Klansmen plant a powerful bomb that
went off at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on Sept. 15, 1963, a
During closing arguments, U.S. Attorney Doug Jones told the jury of eight
whites and four blacks that it was "never too late for justice." He said
Blanton acted in response to months of civil rights demonstrations.
"Tom Blanton saw change and didn't like it," Jones said as
black-and-white images of the church and the girls dressed in Sunday
clothing flashed on video screens in the packed courtroom.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Posey added: "The defendant didn't care
who he killed as long as he killed someone and as long as that person was
"These children must not have died in vain," he said. "Don't let the
deafening blast of his bomb be what's left ringing in our ears."
Defense lawyer John Robbins said the government relied on murky tapes of
his client secretly recorded by the FBI and proved only that Blanton was
once a foul-mouthed segregationist, not a bomber.
The bomb ripped through an exterior wall of the brick church. The bodies
of Denise McNair, 11, and Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole
Robertson, all 14, were found in the downstairs lounge.
Blanton was among a group of Klansman identified as suspects within
weeks, though the Justice Department later concluded that prosecution was
blocked by then-Director J. Edgar Hoover.
The FBI planted a hidden microphone in Blanton's apartment in 1964 and
taped his conversations with Mitchell Burns, a fellow
Posey went over the tapes for jurors, putting transcript excerpts on the
video screens. He read from one transcript in which Blanton describes
himself to Burns as a clean-cut guy: "I like to go shooting, I like to go
fishing, I like to go bombing."
Posey also quoted Blanton as saying he was through with women. "I am
going to stick to bombing churches," Blanton said, according to Posey.
On one tape, Blanton was heard telling Burns that he would not be caught
"when I bomb my next church." On another made in his kitchen, he is heard
talking with his wife about a meeting where "we planned the bomb."
"That is a confession out of this man's mouth," said Jones, pointing to
The defense argued that the tape made in Blanton's kitchen meant nothing
because prosecutors failed to play 26 minutes of previous conversation.
"You can't judge a conversation in a vacuum," Robbins said.
Robbins also said Blanton's conversations with Burns were nothing but
boasting between "two drunk rednecks." He dismissed Burns and other
prosecution witnesses as liars.
Blanton was the second former Klan member put on trial in the bombing of
the church, a downtown rallying site for civil rights protesters.
Robert "Dynamite Bob" Chambliss was convicted of murder in 1977 and died
in prison. Another former Klansman, Bobby Frank Cherry, was indicted last
year but his trial was delayed after evaluations raised questions about
his mental competency. A fourth suspect, Herman Cash, died without being
Other civil rights-era cases have been revived by prosecutors in recent
years. In two Mississippi cases, Byron De La Beckwith was convicted in
1994 of assassinating civil rights leader Medgar Evers 31 years earlier
and former Klan imperial wizard Sam Bowers was convicted three years ago
of the 1966 firebomb-killing of an NAACP leader.
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