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Ex-Klansman's fate in jury's hands

Bobby Frank Cherry
Bobby Frank Cherry  

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (CNN) -- The jury in the Bobby Frank Cherry trial retired for the evening early Tuesday night, just a few hours after being given the case of the former Ku Klux Klansman accused of murder in a 1963 church bombing that killed four black schoolgirls.

Deliberations by the jury -- made up of six white women, three white men and three black men -- will resume Wednesday morning.

During his instructions to the jurors Tuesday afternoon, the judge told them they can find Cherry guilty of murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree or manslaughter.

In closing arguments that began Tuesday morning, prosecutor Doug Jones called Cherry and his alleged co-conspirators "the forefathers of terrorism."

"Bobby Frank Cherry is a murderer who has lived among us," Jones told the jurors, referring to the 39 years since the crime that Cherry has lived as a free man.

Cherry, 71, is accused of helping a band of Klansmen plant a bomb that exploded on September 15, 1963, at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

A jury is deciding the fate of former Ku Klux Klansman Bobby Frank Cherry, who is accused of the 1963 church bombing that killed four black schoolgirls. CNN's Gary Tuchman reports (May 22)

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The bomb went off as worshippers arrived for services, killing 11-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley.

Cherry is charged with four counts of murder and four counts of arson. If convicted, the 71-year-old former Ku Klux Klansman could be sentenced to life in prison.

Two other men were convicted in the bombing.

Robert Chambliss, known as "Dynamite Bob," was convicted of murder in 1977 and died in prison. Ex-Klansman Thomas Blanton Jr. was convicted of murder last year and was sentenced to life in prison. A fourth suspect, Herman Cash, died in 1994 without being charged.

Cherry was to have gone on trial with Blanton but was ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial. After psychologists testified that Cherry was faking, the judge reversed himself and declared Cherry competent.

Referring to the previous convictions, defense attorney Mickey Johnson argued, "We are not going to let the state convict purely on guilt by association."

Johnson admitted that his client's former membership in the Ku Klux Klan was a strike against him, but he urged jurors had to look beyond that in weighing their verdict.

"This is an easy man to prosecute, because he is the human equivalent of a cockroach," Johnson said.

-- CNN Correspondent Gary Tuchman contributed to this report.




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