Church Bombing Witness Dies

James Edward Lay, the first person on the scene of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, has died. He was 73. Lay was part of the church's protection unit. His grand jury testimony was read to the jury during the recent trial of convicted church bomber Thomas E. Blanton, Jr.

Lay had suffered a stroke and was unable to appear in court. In his testimony, Lay said a photo of Blanton closely resembled a man he saw loitering at the church two weeks before the blast that killed four young black girls. Lay said he saw three, perhaps four, white men outside the church about one o'clock in the morning -- two weeks before the blast.

Lay reported the sightings to the police. According to the grand jury transcript, officers told him, "I hadn't seen a so-and-so thing."