Dave Martin  /  AP file
Former Ku Klux Klansman Bobby Frank Cherry.
updated 6/15/2004 5:58:16 PM ET 2004-06-15T21:58:16

An attorney for a former Klansman said Tuesday that his client was unfairly convicted in a deadly 1963 church bombing because key witnesses died in the decades before the 2002 trial.

Defense lawyer Frank Myers said Bobby Frank Cherry’s wife told police that she was home with Cherry from the night the bomb was planted until after it exploded the next day at Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four black girls. The bombing was one of the most notorious crimes of the civil rights era.

But Virginia Cherry and others who could have provided an alibi have died, Myers told the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

“Her testimony would have provided a compelling defense and created doubt in the mind of the jury,” Myers said.

Assistant Attorney General Marc Starrett told the judges it is only speculation what the deceased witnesses would have said. He also said much of the testimony against Cherry was based on witnesses who said Cherry had bragged about the church bombing over the years.

“It was those statements that brought him to a jury trial,” Starrett said.

Cherry, 73, was convicted in May 2002 of the Sept. 15, 1963, bombing at the downtown Birmingham church and was sentenced to life in prison.

Killed in the blast were Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, all 14, and Denise McNair, 11.

Cherry was the third former Ku Klux Klansman to be convicted in the bombing. Thomas Blanton was found guilty in 2001 and is serving a life sentence. Robert Chambliss was convicted in 1977 and died in prison.

The appeals court judges did not say when they would rule.

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