Witnesses Take the Stand in Bombing Trial

The first day of testimony is over in the trial of Bobby Frank Cherry. Witnesses took jurors back to that fatal day in 1963 when four children died in an explosion at Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church. The opening day of testimony proved to be very emotional for the families of those girls.

Emotions ran high as jurors heard from the families and friends of the little girls who were attending Sunday School at the church when the bomb exploded. People also testified, who knew what it was like to live in the racist South of the early 1960s. That's important, according to prosecutors, who say it paints a picture of Cherry's motive. But defense attorneys are quick to point out that jurors haven't heard much yet that directly links Cherry to the case.

Family members of the victims sat in the front row watching and of course, testifying when they were called. It's been a long time, but the event is still stirring strong emotions. Maxine McNair's daughter, Denice, was one of the four girls killed in the blast. She and her husband, Chris, are following the trial closely. On the stand, Maxine recalled hearing the explosion. She was in Sunday School at the 16th Street Baptist Church and later learned her daughter was among the dead.

The then pastor of the church, John Cross, remembered it too. He says it was a time of intense racial hostility in Alabama. A video was shown to the jury as proof of the climate. The video allegedly shows Cherry and others beating a black man on the street, an incident prosecutors say indicates Cherry's racist nature.

Prosecutor Robert Posey says, "The state has a right to put on evidence of motive and evidence of the history of Birmingham, what was going on in 1963, and the defendant's response. We believe this is relevant."

But Cherry's lawyer, Mickey Johnson, says the video in no way proves Cherry was involved in the bombing. He calls Cherry a "scapegoat" in a politically motivated trial. Defense lawyers say simply proving Cherry was a racist doesn't prove he's guilty. "If you threw a net over the city of Birmingham that was designed to trap all of those people who favored segregation, you would have caught most of the population," says attorney Mickey Johnson.

As for Cherry, he's been a bit despondent. He doesn't seem to be recognizing what's going on. In fact, WSFA talked to his attorney and the attorney said they are not relying on Cherry too much to help in his defense.

But prosecutors still have a few tricks up their sleeves. Late Tuesday afternoon, one witness, Bobby Birdwell, told jurors that when he was a boy in the early 1960s, he was playing with Cherry's son when he overhead Cherry and three other men talking about "the bomb" and "16th Street."

More witnesses are expected to come later and tell jurors they also heard Cherry boasting about being involved in the blast.

In opening arguments, prosecutors claimed Cherry wore the bombing as a "badge of honor" saying he boasted about the crime in the years following it.

But in their opening statements, defense attorneys told jurors, "You can't believe everything you hear," that Cherry in fact, "did not boast," and that witnesses are "just making that all up." Defense attorneys believe they will be able to discredit the testimony of those claiming they heard Cherry boasting about the bomb.

The defense also pointed out there is no forensic evidence, like fingerprints, connecting Cherry to the bomb. A witness, who told investigators she saw Cherry and three other men driving near the church the night before the bombing, is said by the defense to have made a false statement. Defense lawyers say that statement was made more than a year after the bombing, and the woman who made it will testify in this trial that she lied. The defense is simply trying to prove that Cherry wasn't there and had nothing to do with the crime at all.

Some of those arguments are similar to the ones heard during the Thomas Blanton trial and others are different. So, it's hard to tell how the jury will take it all. Of course, Thomas Blanton was the last man convicted of this crime, just last year. He's currently serving a life sentence.

This trial is expected to last anywhere from one to three weeks, depending mainly on how much legal sparring goes on between the attorneys.