Conviction in 1963 Church Bombing

ByABC News
May 1, 2001, 2:13 PM

May 1 -- A former Ku Klux Klansman was convicted today in the 1963 bombing of an Alabama church that killed four black girls.

Thomas Blanton Jr., 62, was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder in the Sept. 15, 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Blanton was sentenced to life in prison.

The jury of eight whites and four blacks announced their verdict after only 2½ hours of deliberations. Before hewas led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, Blanton was asked if he hadany comment.

"I guess the good Lord will settle it on Judgment Day," hesaid.

The blast occurred at the height of the civil rights movement, as church members were gathering for Sunday services. Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins, all 14, and Denise McNair, 11, were killed.

At the time of the bombing, blacks were integrating Birmingham'sall-white schools and Gov. George Wallace was trying to maintain the status quo, proclaiming, "Segregation, segregation forever." The church was a gathering site for protest marches and young people who participated in the demonstrations.

Defense Blames Verdict on Emotions

Blanton's attorney, John Robbins, said he knew the quickness of the deliberations was not a good sign for his client and felt that jurors based their verdict primarily on the emotions stirred by the case and their need to avenge the girls' deaths.

"The girls will always be a monument to freedom and justice," Robbins said. "But justice doesn't mean convicting somebody just so we feel good about ourselves. They made the assumption, 'We know who did the bombing, let's find out why.' That's not a trial. That's not a contest."

Robbins said he would appeal the conviction and cite, among other things, the judge's decision not to move the trial outside of Birmingham.

Prosecutors, however, were elated with the verdict and hoped the victims' families would be able to feel some closure.

"We felt that if the jury pieced the puzzle together, theywould come back with the correct verdict. We believe this isthe correct verdict," U.S. Attorney Doug Jones said.