Ex-trooper indicted in 1965 death of rights activist

May 10, 2007|By Jenny Jarvie | Jenny Jarvie,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Atlanta -- An Alabama grand jury indicted a former state trooper yesterday in the fatal 1965 shooting of a black civil rights activist, which was a catalyst for the historic march from Selma to Montgomery.

Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 26-year-old church deacon, died of two gunshot wounds during a voter registration march in Marion, Ala. Witnesses have said he was protecting his mother and grandfather from state troopers wielding billy clubs.

The former trooper, James Bonard Fowler, now 73, said he fired his gun in self-defense after a struggle during which Jackson reached for Fowler's holster.

George Beck, the attorney who successfully prosecuted Klansman Robert Chambliss in 1977 for the 1963 Birmingham church bombings that killed four black girls, will defend Fowler. The prosecution will be led by Michael Jackson, the first black district attorney from the five-county area that includes Marion.

Jackson, no relation to the shooting victim, said the case would hinge on "compelling witnesses" who would describe "the beatings and the whole drama of that night." He would not say whether any of those witnesses saw Fowler shoot Jackson.

After a two-hour review of the case, a grand jury in Perry County, Ala., returned a two-count indictment. Though the indictment is sealed, officials confirmed that Fowler had been charged.

On the night of Feb. 18, 1965, about 500 civil rights activists were marching from the Zion United Methodist Church toward the Marion County Jail to protest the jailing of a voting-rights worker when they encountered a line of law enforcement officers wielding batons.

According to witness affidavits in 1965, troopers chased a group of protesters into Mack's Cafe and clubbed Jimmie Lee Jackson's 82-year-old grandfather, Cager Lee, and his mother, Viola Jackson, knocking them to the floor When Jackson went to help them, he was shot in the stomach.

Jenny Jarvie writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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