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Tuesday, 17 July, 2001, 00:59 GMT 01:59 UK
Klansman 'unfit to face trial'
Bombing scene
The bombing killed four young black girls
A judge in the US state of Alabama has ruled that a former member of the Ku Klux Klan white supremacist movement is unfit to face trial for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four black girls.

Bobby Frank Cherry
Mr Cherry has been ruled unfit for trial
Circuit Judge James S Garrett found that 72-year-old Bobby Frank Cherry had presented enough evidence to show that he was mentally incompetent and could not understand court proceedings.

The judge ruled he could not answer murder charges in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, one of the most notorious attacks of the civil rights era.

Mr Cherry may now be sent to a state mental hospital or he may be sent home with charges dismissed.

Judge Garrett ordered further tests for Mr Cherry and scheduled another hearing for 10 August.

Divided opinions

During a hearing last week, four medical experts who had examined Mr Cherry agreed that he was suffering from dementia.

But only two of them said that his condition made him incompetent.

Prosecutors said that Mr Cherry was feigning his symptoms to avoid a trial.

But a court-appointed expert said it would be virtually impossible to fake such a condition.

Civil rights headquarters

The bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was one of the most shocking acts of the civil rights era.
Bombing investigation
15 September 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

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 a third Thomas Blanton, was convicted for his part in the attack on 2 May and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mr Cherry, however, has remained at liberty.

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.

Mr Cherry's lawyer had argued that he was easily confused and unable to concentrate. He also said Mr Cherry had difficulty distinguishing his own memories from stories.

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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