Alabama church bombing attorney recounts emotional experience

| February 18, 2013

Nearly 50 years ago in a Birmingham, Ala., church, five little girls were getting ready for that day’s youth service when an explosion shattered the room they were in, killing four of them.

The surviving girl was trapped in the rubble, unable to move or see, screaming for her sister, who never responded. Later, a father identified the body of his 11-year-old daughter, who had worn her new dress to church that day and was last seen getting the sash tied.

Doug Jones befriended the father of Denise McNair, and about 40 years after the tragedy, Jones prosecuted two of the former Ku Klux Klansmen responsible for the bombing.

As the 50th anniversary of the bombing approaches, Jones spoke Tuesday at Middle Georgia State College in Macon, at times choking back tears as he recounted both his experiences and the church bombing that “truly sent shock waves throughout the world,” he said.

Jones, a Birmingham native and former U.S. Attorney, was 9 years old when the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed on Sept. 15, 1963. He remembers hearing about the incident, but he did not fully understand the impact until years later.

As a second-year law student, Jones skipped class to witness the trial of the first man convicted of the bombing. He remembers the day of closing arguments — it would have been Denise McNair’s 26th birthday.

Jones never dreamed that 24 years later, he would be delivering the closing argument against another former Klansman — on what would have been Carole Robertson’s 51st birthday. Carole died in the blast alongside Denise, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley.

After witnessing that trial and befriending Denise McNair’s father, “I had a piece of it that I carried with me,” Jones said after Tuesday’s presentation.

The bombing case was reopened a year before Jones became U.S. attorney in 1997, and “a series of pieces of puzzles” came together, placing Jones at the helm of a team that prosecuted former Klansmen Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry in 2001 and 2002, respectively.

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Category: Church Security

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