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Archive for Sunday, May 19, 2002

Former FBI informant denies ‘64 report she saw defendant plant bomb at church

71-year-old retired trucker charged in civil rights-era blast that killed four teens

May 19, 2002

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— A former FBI informant testified Saturday that she never told the agency she saw Bobby Frank Cherry plant the bomb that blew up a church at the height of the civil rights era and killed four black girls, contradicting a 1964 agency report.

The FBI report quoted Mary Frances Cunningham, who worked for the bureau after the 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, as saying she saw Cherry place the bomb at the church. The report also said she witnessed Cherry and three other Ku Klux Klan suspects sitting in a car near the church the morning of the bombing.

Mary Frances Cunningham, left, a witness for the defense, looks at
a document shown by defense attorney Mickey Johnson in the murder
trial of Bobby Frank Cherry in Birmingham, Ala. Cherry is on trial
for the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which
killed four girls. Cunningham, a former FBI informant, testified
Saturday that she never told agents she saw Cherry plant the bomb
that blew up a church.

Mary Frances Cunningham, left, a witness for the defense, looks at a document shown by defense attorney Mickey Johnson in the murder trial of Bobby Frank Cherry in Birmingham, Ala. Cherry is on trial for the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which killed four girls. Cunningham, a former FBI informant, testified Saturday that she never told agents she saw Cherry plant the bomb that blew up a church.

As the defense began calling witnesses Saturday, Cunningham said she never gave the FBI that information.

"I did not make that claim. I did not make that statement to anyone," she said.

Cunningham is the sister-in-law of Robert Chambliss, a Klan member charged in the bombing and convicted in 1977. He died in prison. While an informant, Cunningham said she told the FBI information she learned from Chambliss' wife.

Cherry, 71, a retired trucker from Mabank, Tex., is charged with murder in the deaths of four girls on a Sunday morning before church. He faces life in prison if convicted.

Defense attorney Mickey Johnson called only three witnesses in an abbreviated weekend session. He was expected to rest his case Monday. The case could go to the jury by Tuesday.

An investigator for the Alabama attorney general's office in the 1970s testified Saturday that Cunningham told him another story. In an interview with Cunningham, investigator Bob Eddy said she told him she made up the information she gave the FBI.

"She stated she just overheard things from the FBI and made up the story," Eddy said.

Prosecutors finished calling witnesses against Cherry on Friday. Their case included haunting testimony from the lone survivor of five girls who went into a church lounge on a Sunday morning to get ready for services.

Sarah Collins Rudolph, now 51, was temporarily blinded in the blast that brought debris and glass crashing down on the girls in the basement lounge of the church. The Sept. 15, 1963, explosion killed Rudolph's sister, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, all 14, and Denise McNair, 11.

Rudolph said she was standing at a sink washing her hands and watching her sister tie the sash on Denise's dress when she heard a loud noise and was blinded by glass flying into her eyes.

"I began to call Addie. I said 'Addie, Addie, Addie,"' Rudolph said.

"Did your sister ever answer," prosecutor Doug Jones asked.

"No sir, she didn't," Rudolph said.

Cherry is accused of being part of a group of Ku Klux Klansmen that detonated the bomb outside the church on the weekend after Birmingham's public schools were racially integrated for the first time.

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