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The BBC's Nick Bryant
"The final reckoning of one of America's most baneful crimes"
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Wednesday, 2 May, 2001, 02:07 GMT 03:07 UK
KKK man gets life
Bombing scene
Bombing was one of civil rights era's worst crimes
A former member of the American white supremacist movement, the Ku Klux Klan, has been found guilty of the murder of four black schoolgirls in a bomb attack 38 years ago.

A jury of eight white and four black people convicted Thomas Blanton Jr, 62, for the attack on a black church congregation in the city of Birmingham, Alabama.

Blanton was immediately sentenced to life in prison for what is considered one of the most shocking crimes of the civil rights era.

"I guess the good Lord will settle on judgment day," said Blanton, who had denied any involvement in the bombing.

Stairwell bomb

Blanton was accused of helping other Klansmen plant the powerful bomb that went off at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on the morning of Sunday 15 September 1963.

Bombing investigation
1963: Bomb kills four
1965: Four men named but not charged
1977: Robert Chambliss convicted. He dies in prison
1997: Case reopened
17 May 2000: Blanton and Cherry on murder charges
16 April 2001: Blanton trial opens, Cherry having been found unfit to stand trial
The bomb, placed under a stairwell, ripped through an exterior wall of the brick church, killing Denise McNair, 11, and Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson, all 14.

More than 20 fellow churchgoers were also injured, their faces cut by shards from the stained-glass windows.

Four men were suspected of the crime; one of them, Robert "Dynamite Bob" Chambliss, was convicted in 1977 and died in prison eight years later while serving a life sentence for murder.

Prosecution blocked

Throughout the trial Blanton was portrayed as a vile segregationist who planted the bomb at the Baptist church in response to months of civil rights demonstrations led by Dr Martin Luther King.

Thomas Blanton
Blanton has been sentenced to life in prison
The target was highly symbolic, the headquarters of the Birmingham movement where King and his followers launched waves of protests aimed at desegregating a city known then as the Johannesburg of America.

Blanton was incriminated by conversations with his fellow Klansmen and bombers, recorded by the FBI in 1964.

At one point he was heard to say: "I like to go shooting, I like to go fishing. I like to go bombing."

He would have been brought to trial much earlier had it not been for the opposition of the then FBI Director, J Edgar Hoover, never a friend of black civil rights activists.

The case was reopened following a 1993 meeting in Birmingham between FBI officials and black ministers.

Blanton's alleged accomplice, 71-year-old Bobby Frank Cherry had his trial postponed indefinitely as a result of failing health.

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See also:

16 Apr 01 | Americas
Racist church bombing trial opens
18 May 00 | Americas
Klansmen deny church bombing
18 May 00 | Americas
Two accused of racist bombing
22 Sep 00 | Americas
US report admits racism
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