FBI tapes reveal ranting of ex-Klansman about bombings

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (AP) -- Jurors listening to secretly recorded FBI tapes heard the 40-year-old racist ranting of Ku Klux Klansmen as they drove around spouting racial epithets and talking about bombings.

Prosecutors played the tapes in court Wednesday in the trial of former Klansman Bobby Frank Cherry, who is charged with murder for the 1963 bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed four black girls.

The trial is expected to resume on Thursday.

On the tapes, Cherry could be heard talking with another suspect and an informant about bomb-making methods and the actual explosion that shattered the church, a gathering place for civil rights demonstrators. Cherry is the final surviving suspect and prosecutors said his trial will be the last in the case.

Much of the dialogue on the tapes, played over speakers, was indecipherable in the wood-paneled courtroom. Jurors were given earphones and transcripts of the tapes and presumably had an easier time making out the conversations. Copies of the transcripts were not made available to the public.

The tapes were secretly recorded in the car of FBI informant and former Klansman Mitchell Burns who testified that Cherry also bragged about lying to the FBI, who had given him a lie detector.

"He stated to us he lied all the way through to the FBI," said Burns, 74.
Burns said at one point during the conversation that Cherry indicated FBI agents didn't know the bomb was made at Cherry's house.

"They think we made the bomb somewhere else," Burns quoted Cherry as saying.
Cherry, a retire truck driver who now lives in Mabank, Texas, and former Klansman Thomas Blanton Jr. were indicted on murder charges two years ago.

Blanton is serving life.

Under cross examination by defense attorney Mickey Johnson, Burns admitted that most of his time as a paid informant was spent riding around in a car with Blanton, going to bars and drinking.

Johnson argued that the exact words on the tapes are open to interpretation.
Burns worked as an informant for several years beginning in 1964. He said he agreed to help investigators find the bombers after an agent showed him gruesome photos of the girls killed by the bomb.

On Wednesday, jurors also were shown the grisly morgue photos of the four black girls killed in the blast.

Some members of the mostly white jury looked down and grimaced as Coroner Robert Brissie used a large screen to display black-and-white photographs of the girls' mangled bodies.

Cherry turned his head away from the photos, which weren't visible to a gallery that included several of the victims' relatives sitting in the front row.

Brissie testified that the bomb, which shredded the girls' bodies, was powerful. "It was calculated to produce death," he said.

The bomb went off on Sunday morning on September 15, 1963, killing Denise McNair, 11, and Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley, all 14.

The girls were in a downstairs lounge primping for a youth-led worship service when the bomb exploded outside the building. The force crumbled a stone-and-masonry wall 30 inches thick and left a crater more than 2 feet deep.

Klansman Robert Chambliss was convicted of murder in the bombing in 1977 and died in prison. A fourth suspect died without being charged.

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