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Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin - Fall 2013

Special Interest Birmingham to accept African-American students. On September 10, 1963, just five days before the bombing, two young men enrolled at Graymont Elementary School and for the first time, Birmingham had an integrated school system. Blanton and Cherry saw their segregated way of life erode even further. It was, I believe, no coincidence that five days after the schools were finally integrated a bomb was placed under the steps of a prominent player in the civil rights movement, the 16th Street Baptist Church, on a Sunday morning where other prominent players in the movement, the youth, were preparing for the first of the planned monthly youth worship services. “The Case Against Blanton and Cherry” The evidence introduced in the Blanton trial and the Cherry trial obviously had many similarities. Testimony from the victims’ families and from those on the scene was essentially the same in both trials, but the evidence that pointed to the guilt of each defendant was considerably different. The Blanton jury heard evidence of the defendant’s hatred for blacks and his membership in the Klan. Tapes were played of conversations between Blanton and an informant in which Blanton joked about “bombing my next church.” There was testimony by James Lay who identified Blanton and Chambliss as the men he saw standing on the side of the church at one o’clock in the morning two weeks prior to the bombing. The man identified as Blanton was holding some type of satchel and standing next to the steps where the bomb was eventually placed. Former FBI agents testified about Blanton’s inconsistent statements concerning his whereabouts the weekend of the bombing. Finally, the jury heard Blanton himself, on tape, admitting to being part of meetings where the bomb was planned and made. With Cherry, the witnesses who came forward following his press conference gave compelling testimony about Cherry’s admissions to them. In addition, an ex-wife who had also called the FBI when she read about the case in Montana, testified about Cherry’s admissions to her. Like Blanton, Cherry also gave many conflicting statements about his whereabouts the night before the bombing. His latest version of where he had been on Saturday night was that he was home early because his wife was dying with cancer and he always watched live studio wrestling at 10 p.m. We introduced medical records proving that Mrs. Cherry was not diagnosed with cancer until 1965, two years after the bombing, and that there was no Saturday night wrestling on TV at the time. Most significantly, Cherry admitted to being at the Modern Sign Shop with Blanton and Chambliss on the Friday night before the bombing, the same Friday night and location where Blanton said “we” had planned and made the bomb In both trials, we concluded the prosecution’s case on an emotional high note. Our last witness was Sarah Collins Rudolph, the sister of Addie Mae and the “fifth little girl” in the ladies lounge. She testified about walking to church that morning with her sisters and going into the basement and the ladies lounge with Addie. As she went to wash her hands she turned around and saw Addie tying the sash of Denise’s new dress. The explosion then trapped her beneath rubble, unable to move and unable to see because of injuries to her eyes. I asked her what happened after the explosion? “I called out for my sister.” What did you say? “I called out Addie, Addie, Addie,” her words echoing in a silent courtroom much as they would have 38 years earlier. “Did she answer you back?” I asked. “No,’’ she said softly. “Did you ever see her alive again?” “No,” she said, wiping back the tears. With that, the State of Alabama rested. It took the jury only 2 and one-half hours to find Tommy Blanton guilty on four counts of first degree murder. It took the Cherry jury about six hours to reach the same result. Both were immediately sentenced to life in prison and were whisked out of the courtroom by Sheriff ’s deputies. “The Aftermath” It is impossible to express the emotion felt by the prosecution team and the satisfaction gained from being a part of these cases. I have said many times that I wish every lawyer, at least once in their career, could work on a case that meant so much to so many. As lawyers we have to remember that we are a service profession. Our job is to seek justice for our clients no matter what the obstacles or delay. Justice delayed does not have to mean justice denied. The odds are that you will never see a case that has such an impact on so many, but every case does have an impact on the client we represent and each of these clients deserve as much attention and effort as did Carol, Denise, Addie and Cynthia. G 20 Birmingham Bar Association


Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin - Fall 2013
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