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Wednesday, 22 May, 2002, 20:35 GMT 21:35 UK
Klansman convicted over church bombing
Bombing scene at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church
The attack was one of the worst of the civil rights era
A former member of the Ku Klux Klan white supremacist movement in the United States has been found guilty of a racist murder which took place nearly 40 years ago.

Bobby Frank Cherry had denied planting a bomb that killed four black schoolgirls at a church in Birmingham, Alabama.

Bobby Frank Cherry
Cherry's former wife said he took part in the attacks
Cherry, who is 71, faces an automatic sentence of life imprisonment.

The explosion at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in September 1963 was a defining moment of the civil rights era.

The church had been targeted because it was being used as a meeting place by black civil rights workers, at the height of their campaign in the American South.

It remains one of America's worst incidents of racial violence.

Fading memories

The explosion killed Denise McNair, 11, along with Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins, all 14, as they got ready for a Sunday morning service.

Two other men have already been convicted over the attack, but a third died without being charged.

The jury of nine white and three black people deliberated for less than a day before reaching their verdict.

Thomas Blanton
Another ex-Klansman Thomas Blanton is serving life for his part in the attack
Cherry, a retired trucker who reportedly suffers from dementia, reacted angrily to the outcome.

"These witnesses have lied all through this thing", he said, maintaining that he had told the truth.

Five state witnesses, including Cherry's former wife, had testified that he had admitted taking part.

Cherry was questioned by the FBI immediately after the blast in 1963 but he was only indicted in August 2000.

He was not put on trial then because a judge ruled he was not mentally competent, but experts later assessed him and concluded he was faking mental illness.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"Martin Luther King turned this church into a potent symbol of the civil rights struggle"
See also:

14 May 02 | Americas
03 Jan 02 | Americas
16 Apr 01 | Americas
18 May 00 | Americas
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