[sixties-l] Why Did the F.B.I. Hold Back Evidence?

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Fri May 04 2001 - 18:04:47 EDT

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    Why Did the F.B.I. Hold Back Evidence?

    May 3, 2001


    BIRMINGHAM, Ala. ^ This week, a guilty verdict was
    returned against Thomas Blanton for the dynamite bomb
    deaths of Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley
    and Carole Robertson on Sept. 15, 1963, in a Birmingham
    church. In 1977, as Alabama attorney general, I prosecuted
    Mr. Blanton's associate Robert Chambliss for the same
    crime. It took a long enough time to bring him to trial ^
    and far too long, unnecessarily long, to do the same with
    Mr. Blanton.

    Within days of taking office as attorney general in
    January 1971, I opened an investigation of these murders.
    After a few false starts, my staff and I identified Mr.
    Chambliss, Mr. Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry as
    principals. These individuals had been identified by the
    F.B.I. when the 1963 bombing occurred.

    Soon it became clear these men could not be prosecuted
    without assistance from the F.B.I. For several years, I
    requested, demanded and begged the F.B.I. for evidence.

    After we were repeatedly stonewalled, my faith in the
    integrity of the F.B.I. dissipated. What had at first
    seemed an innocent bureaucratic shuffle was revealed to be
    a charade. In exasperation, I shared my frustration with
    Jack Nelson, an Alabama native who was then Washington
    bureau chief for The Los Angeles Times. He went to
    officials at the Justice Department and threatened to
    reveal the F.B.I.'s refusal to cooperate with our
    investigation. Only then did the F.B.I. share its

    We quickly pieced evidence from the F.B.I. together with
    our own. A jury of nine whites and three blacks convicted
    Mr. Chambliss. He was sent to prison and died there,

    Mr. Blanton and Mr. Cherry remained at large; we lacked
    evidence as good as that we had had for Mr. Chambliss. I
    left government and moved to Birmingham, where I was
    reminded daily of my certainty of Mr. Blanton's and Mr.
    Cherry's guilt. I hoped someone would come forward with
    more evidence. No one did.

    In 1997, I learned that Doug Jones, the United States
    attorney in Birmingham, whom I knew to be ethical and
    highly competent, had opened, once again, investigations
    of Mr. Blanton and Mr. Cherry. The two men were indicted ^
    and I was astonished to learn that the F.B.I. had tape
    recordings of Mr. Blanton from the 1960's that
    incriminated both of them. I was also livid. For more than
    two decades, Mr. Blanton and Mr. Cherry evaded indictment
    and prosecution because the F.B.I. held back these
    recordings. This was evidence we desperately needed in
    1977 ^ evidence whose existence F.B.I. officials had
    denied. Had it been provided in 1977, we could have
    convicted all three of these Klansmen.

    I held my tongue when I learned of this deception. I did
    so to prevent lawyers for Mr. Blanton and Mr. Cherry from
    trumpeting the F.B.I.'s dishonesty as a distraction. Mr.
    Blanton has been convicted ^ thanks greatly to the new
    evidence. Mr. Cherry, due to his alleged mental state, may
    not be tried. There is no longer any reason for me to
    remain silent.

    Why would the F.B.I. aid Klansmen in avoidance of
    prosecution? I don't know. I consider myself a practical
    person. I could understand F.B.I. reluctance to share
    information if it were actively pursuing a case of its
    own. But all federal statutes of limitation had expired
    when this deceit took place, and only in state court ^
    Alabama has no statute of limitations for murder ^ could a
    case against Mr. Blanton or Mr. Cherry proceed. (Mr.
    Jones, the federal attorney, prosecuted the Blanton case
    on Alabama's behalf.) Most of the tape recordings
    admissible against Mr. Blanton in 2001 were admissible in

    What excuse can the F.B.I. have for allowing Mr. Blanton
    to go free for 24 years with this smoking gun evidence
    hidden in its files? How can the F.B.I. justify this to
    the families of four precious girls? I don't know. I do
    know that rank-and-file FBI agents working with us were
    conscientious and championed our cause. The disgust I feel
    is for those in higher places who did nothing.

    Bill Baxley is a former attorney general of Alabama.

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