Cherry Guilty

Bobby Frank Cherry has been found guilty of four counts of murder in the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Cherry has been sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole.

The jury of 9 whites and 3 blacks convicted the former Klansman of the bombing which killed 4 young girls - Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. Cherry didn't face the possibility of death row because the case was governed by the laws of 1963, the year of the bombing. At that time a moratorium on the death penalty had been declared.

The victims' families are glad it's over, the prosecutors are glad it's over, and Civil Rights leaders are glad it's over because they say the verdict sends a message to the rest of the country that Alabama's not what it used to be.

Fred Shuttlesworth and Abraham Woods were there in 1963 and they've been following the trial closely, along with other Civil Rights leaders. Wednesday they proclaimed victory. "At one time, you couldn't but say something bad about Birmingham. Thank God, today, you can say Birmingham is rising out of the dust," said Fred Shuttlesworth.

But Cherry didn't go quietly. Cherry was asked by the judge if he had anything to say after the verdict was read and he pointed to prosecutors and said, "The whole bunch lied." He also said, "I don't know why I'm going to jail for nothing." Cherry and his defense lawyers have long denied Cherry had any complicity in the bombing. Cherry's ex-wife however says Cherry boasted about lighting the fuse.

One of Cherry's defense lawyers, Mickey Johnson. said, "We presented the case we wanted the jury to hear. They considered it. And this is the outcome." Johnson also indicated there would probably be an appeal, but stated he didn't know if he would be on that team.

Prosecutor Doug Jones said, "The people of the state of Alabama, for the second time in about a year, have proved that justice delayed does not have to be justice denied. I am extremely happy with the outcome of this case." He continued saying, "This verdict today sends a message that's important today... to the people who bomb and kill our innocent citizens and children, we will never give up. It doesn't matter how long it takes. We'll never give up."

Sarah Rudolph, a sister of one of the victims, said it was time for Cherry to pay the price for his actions. "It's just his time has come now. He's lived his life, and he had a good life. So, it's time now for him to pay for what he has done."

Two other Klansmen were convicted earlier in the bombing and another died before he was charged. For many people who followed the case closely, Cherry's conviction means the end of a long and hard fought struggle to solve a crime almost four decades old.

Important dates in the investigation of the 1963 bombing are listed below as compiled by the Associated Press.

-- September 15, 1963: Dynamite bomb explodes outside Sunday services at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing 11-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins, and injuring 20 others.

-- May 13, 1965: FBI memorandum to director J. Edgar Hoover concludes the bombing was the work of former Ku Klux Klansmen Robert E. Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry, Herman Frank Cash and Thomas E. Blanton, Jr.

-- 1968: FBI closes its investigation without filing charges.

-- 1971: Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley reopens investigation.

-- November 18, 1977: Chambliss convicted on a state murder charge and sentenced to life in prison.

-- 1980: Justice Department report concludes Hoover had blocked prosecution of the Klansmen in 1965.

-- October 29, 1985: Chambliss dies in prison, still professing his innocence.

-- 1988: Alabama Attorney General Don Siegelman reopens the case, which is closed without action.

-- 1993: Birmingham-area black leaders meet with FBI, agents secretly begin new review of case.

-- February 7, 1994: Cash dies.

-- July 1997: Cherry interrogated in Texas; FBI investigation becomes public knowledge.

-- October 27, 1998: Federal grand jury in Alabama begins hearing evidence.

-- May 17, 2000: Blanton and Cherry surrender on murder indictments returned by grand jury in Birmingham.

-- April 10, 2001: Judge delays Cherry trial, citing defendant's medical problems amid questions over his mental competency.

-- May 1, 2001: Blanton convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

-- January 3, 2002: Judge rules Cherry competent to stand trial after period of confinement in state institution.

-- May 21, 2002: Jury of nine whites and three blacks convicts Cherry of murder, sentenced automatically to life in prison.