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Bobby Frank Cherry and Thomas Blanton
Cherry, left, and Blanton are charged with murder in connection with the church bombing  

Judge sets trial date in Birmingham church bombing case

June 30, 2000
Web posted at: 4:51 p.m. EDT (2051 GMT)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- An Alabama judge has set a December 4 trial date for two former Ku Klux Klan members charged in the 1963 church bombing that killed four black girls.

Thomas E. Blanton and Bobby E. Cherry pleaded "not guilty" to eight counts each of first-degree or premeditated murder, including four counts based on the principle of "universal malice" because the bomb was placed where it could have killed any number of people.

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Blanton and Cherry were named as suspects in the case shortly after the bombing, but both insisted they were innocent.

A Jefferson County grand jury indicted both men in May after hearing two days of testimony. At least three witnesses, including Cherry's 47-year-old son Thomas Frank Cherry, were called before the panel, attorneys say.

Blanton, 62, of Birmingham, and Cherry, 70, of Mabank, Texas, are out of jail on $200,000 bond each.

The bomb went off on September 15, 1963, while church members were meeting for Sunday services. Carol Denise McNair, 11, and 14-year-olds Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins were killed. Another 20 people were injured in the blast. The bombing became a catalyst to the civil rights movement.

The FBI investigated the bombing, but closed the case in 1968 without filing any charges.

bombing aftermath
The bomb went off while church members were meeting for Sunday services  

In 1971, Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley reopened the case and brought charges against Ku Klux Klansman Robert Edward Chambliss. Chambliss was convicted of one count of murder in 1977 and was sentenced to life in prison. He died in jail eight years later at the age of 81.

A fourth suspect, Herman Cash, is also dead.

Federal authorities opened the case again in 1997 after a secret, year-long FBI investigation that officials said turned up new information.

U.S. Attorney Doug Jones led the federal investigation into the case.

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