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Former Klan member guilty in church bombing

Blanton was sentenced to life imprisonment  

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'Never too late for truth'

Three young victims


BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (CNN) -- A former Ku Klux Klan member was found guilty Tuesday of murder in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four girls -- one of the most celebrated crimes of the civil rights era.

The jury found Thomas Blanton Jr., 62, guilty of four counts of murder and sentenced him to four life sentences, based on an old state law. Blanton was led away in handcuffs.

A biracial jury convicts Thomas Blanton Jr. in the 1963 bombing deaths of four girls in a black Birmingham church. CNN's Brian Cabell reports

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Blanton's attorney said his client will appeal, based on the makeup of the jury and what he called the "emotional" verdict.

"Justice doesn't mean simply to convict so we all feel good about ourselves," lawyer John Robbins said.

The panel was made up of eight whites and four African-Americans, only one of them a man. The jurors deliberated for about two and a half hours before reaching their decision.

'Never too late for truth'

Danny Ransom, a friend of one of the young victims, was pleased with the outcome.

"I thought I'd never live to see this day," he said after the verdict was announced. "This speaks well for the citizens of Birmingham."

Prosecutors said Blanton plotted with others to bomb the black church.

U.S. Attorney Doug Jones said the verdict is correct.

"It's late, and they say justice delayed is justice denied. Well, folks, I don't believe that for an instant. Justice delayed is still justice, and we've got it, right here in Birmingham tonight," he told reporters. "Any time you can hold someone accountable for that kind of crime, or any kind of crime, it means a lot to the victims."

The aftermath of the 1963 16th Street Baptist church bombing


In closing arguments Jones said the fact that the trial was taking place 38 years after the attack made it no less important.

"It's never too late for the truth to be told, it's never to late for wounds to heal, it's never too late for a man to be held accountable for his crimes," he said.

Prosecutor Robert Posey said Blanton "killed these worshippers in God's house on Sunday morning because he was a man of hate."

Blanton's lawyers acknowledge the defendant was a "loudmouth" and a "segregationist," but Blanton has long denied any involvement in the September 15, 1963, bombing.

In closing arguments for the defense, Robbins said secret FBI audiotapes, purporting to prove that Blanton planned the bombing, consisted of "two rednecks driving around, drinking, running their mouths."

Four young victims

The trial, which began last Tuesday, reopened old wounds in the city. The court heard from family members whose loved ones were killed when a dynamite blast ripped through the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on a Sunday morning, killing 11-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson.

The church was a nerve center for civil rights advocates who took to the streets that year to protest Birmingham's segregation laws.

Blanton is one of four men tied to the bombing, prosecutors say.

Fourteen years after the bombing, Robert Chambliss was convicted of murder in connection with the incident. He died in prison. Another suspect died before he was charged.

Bobby Frank Cherry, 71, might never face trial after a judge ruled this month that he is not mentally competent to assist his attorneys in his defense.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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