Bobby Frank Cherry, convicted killer of four black girls in the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., died last Thursday at 74. An inmate of the Kilby Correctional Facility in Montgomery, he died of cancer according to a Department of Corrections spokesman.
Cherry was convicted of four counts of murder and sentenced to life in May 2002 for involvement in the racially motivated bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. He complained of being ill for a lengthy period before his death, also complaining that he wasn’t receiving proper treatment. He also claimed that he was being held as a political prisoner.
Cherry was among three Ku Klux Klan members known for their violent behavior convicted in the bombing. Robert Chambliss was convicted to life in 1977, but died while serving his sentence. Thomas Blanton was sentenced to life in 2001 and is still serving.
The bomb exploded in downtown Birmingham on the morning of Sept. 15, 1963 as four girls, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, all 14, and Denise McNair, 11, were in the church basement preparing for a youth-led Sunday worship service. The bomb collapsed the lower floor and blew out all the windows in the sanctuary except for a stained-glass window.
After nearly 40 years, the bombing case finally came to an end when the last of the bombers, Cherry, was convicted in 2002. The case went unsolved for years after the bombing until then-Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley reopened the investigation in 1977. The case received renewed attention in 1993 when an FBI agent in the Birmingham office revealed more than 9,000 FBI documents and surveillance tapes that had not been previously shared with prosecutors.
On May 22, 2002, a jury made up of nine whites and three blacks convicted Cherry of murder after listening to testimony from relatives and newly recovered FBI files. Several relatives testified against him including his ex-wife Willadean Bogdon who said in her testimony “He said he lit the fuse.”
Cherry appealed and argued that witnesses who might have helped his case could not be located because of the long period between the bombing and the trial. He also argued that it was unfair to hold the trial in Birmingham, a city rich with civil rights history and where the case received so much news coverage. The appeals court disagreed.
Cherry married five times and had 15 children. His body is buried in Texas where his family lives and where he relocated to in the early 1970’s.
A television drama was made about Bobby Cherry’s involvement in the bombing called “Sins of the Father” was released in 2002.