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Will State Trooper get a fair trial in deep south "black belt?"


CofCC.org News Teams

fowler051007.jpgFrom Alabama CofCC Website.

Forty-two years have passed since the death of “civil rights demonstrator” Jimmie Lee Jackson in Marion, Alabama. So why now did Black Belt prosecutor Michael Jackson choose to target retired State Trooper and Vietnam war hero James Bonard Fowler? Not only have a great number of witnesses passed away, but now an entire generation of middle-aged and young people in the Black Belt have grown up hearing about Jimmie Lee Jackson “dying a martyr at the hands of a violent state trooper fighting equality.”

Prosecutor Jackson says the case “galvanized the ‘civil rights’ movement”, because the incident led to the illegal march from Selma to Montgomery later that year. These circumstances taken into account, it is impossible to imagine Mr. Fowler receiving fair treatment in the Perry County, which is 68% black.

Mr. Fowler, now a farmer in Geneva County, was one of the state troopers sent to Marion to disperse the Feb. 18, 1965, march conducted to push more Congressional action on racial issues. According to the troopers, after the street lights went out, they were attacked with bricks and glass bottles by the demonstrators.

During the riot, Mr. Fowler recollects that Jimmie Lee Jackson attempted to take his gun, which led to the self-defense shooting. While expressing regret for the incident, Mr. Fowler had no choice but to defend himself. Jackson was rushed to a Selma hospital to treat his gunshot wound, where he received such poor medical treatment that it ultimately led to a fatal infection.

Prosecutor Jackson called the autopsy and the accounts of the Selma doctors detailing the cause of death “irrelevant”. The demonstrators claim that Jackson was trying to protect his mother and grandfather.Sometime in late January or early February of next year, James Bonard Fowler (who has pleaded not guilty) will face charges of 1st degree and 2nd degree murder. “We want the trial to happen as soon as we can”, Prosecutor Michael Jackson says, “we’re dealing with something that happened 40 years ago, and we’ve got a lot of old people involved in this situation. So time is a factor”.

At the pre-trial hearing on Nov. 8, Fowler’s attorney George Beck will make several motions including a request to dismiss because many of the key witnesses reinforcing Mr. Fowler’s account have died, a challenge to the (overwhelmingly Black) composition of the grand jury that indicted Mr. Fowler, and a request that the case be heard in another county.