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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 22:59 GMT
Klansman 'fit for trial'
Bombing scene
The bombing killed four young black girls
A US judge has ruled that a former member of the Ku Klux Klan white supremacist movement, Bobby Frank Cherry, can stand trial for the bombing of an Alabama church in 1963.

Last year Judge James Garrett ruled that Mr Cherry was mentally incompetent to face trial, but he has now reversed the decision following further psychological tests on Mr Cherry.

Bobby Frank Cherry
Mr Cherry was diagnosed with vascular dementia
Four black girls were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in what was one of the most notorious attacks of the civil rights era.

Four men were identified as suspects by the FBI after the bombing - two are dead and a third, Thomas Blanton, was convicted last year for his part in the attack and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mr Cherry, however, remained at liberty.

Symbolic target

The attack occurred on the morning of Sunday 15 September 1963.

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, as they prepared for a church service.

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

Thomas Blanton
Blanton is serving life for his part in the attack

The target was highly symbolic. The church was the headquarters of the Birmingham movement where Dr Martin Luther King and his followers launched waves of protests aimed at desegregating a city known then as the Johannesburg of America.

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

'Faked' dementia

Mr Cherry and Blanton were indicted on murder charges in 1999. Blanton was convicted last year and sentenced to life in prison, but the judge delayed Mr Cherry's trial because of questions about his competency.

Last April doctors diagnosed Mr Cherry, 72, with vascular dementia, caused by decreased blood flow to the brain and Judge Garrett ruled that his condition would prevent him from properly following the proceedings of a trial.

But Mr Cherry was sent to a state institution for another 71 days of further evaluation.

And last month, two state psychologists testified that Mr Cherry had appeared to fake a poor memory during tests of his competency.

Blanton is appealing against his conviction and maintains his innocence.

See also:

17 Jul 01 | Americas
Klansman 'unfit to face trial'
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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