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Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 01:49 GMT 02:49 UK
Klan 'church bomber' faces trial decision
Bombing scene
The bombing killed four young black girls
By Jonny Dymond in Washington

A court in the US state of Alabama has begun to hear arguments as to whether a former member of the Ku Klux Klan white supremacist movement is fit to stand trial.

Bobby Frank Cherry
Lawyers disagree over Mr Cherry's mental state
Bobby Frank Cherry is accused of bombing a church in Alabama's largest city, Birmingham, in 1963, an attack which killed four black girls at the height of the US civil rights movement.

Lawyers disagree over his mental state - two evaluations have found him unfit to stand trial, one has found him fit.

Another former Klan member, Thomas Blanton, was convicted for his part in the attack on 2 May and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Civil rights headquarters

Bombing investigation
1963: Bomb kills four
1965: Four men named but not charged
1977: Robert Chambliss convicted, dies in prison
1997: Case reopened
17 May 2000: Blanton and Cherry on murder charges
2 May 2001: Blanton sentenced to life in prison
The bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was one of the most shocking acts of the civil rights era.

It left one 11-year-old and three 14-year-olds dead in the building, which was a gathering place for civil rights activists.

Four men were identified as suspects by the FBI after the bombing - two are dead and one, Blanton, is in prison.

Mr Cherry, however, remains at liberty.

Unclear memory

State law demands that Mr Cherry has a rational understanding of the case and the legal proceedings, and must be able to help lawyers prepare his defence.

Thomas Blanton
Blanton is serving life for his part in the attack
Mr Cherry's lawyer describes him as being easily confused and unable to concentrate. He also says Mr Cherry has difficulty distinguishing his own memories from stories.

Should he be found fit, Mr Cherry may face trial within weeks.

If the judge finds him incompetent, he still might not regain his liberty - he could be committed to a state hospital for treatment.

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See also:

02 May 01 | Americas
KKK man gets life
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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