COURT to decide whether ex-Klansman competent to stand trial in church bombing case - - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

COURT to decide whether ex-Klansman competent to stand trial in church bombing case

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ Two evaluations found ex-Ku Klux Klansman Bobby Frank Cherry incompetent to stand trial for the deaths of four black girls in a 1963 church bombing. A third determined he was fit to face charges he helped plant the deadly device.

The conflicting reports were to be the subject of a hearing scheduled for Monday before Circuit Judge James Garrett, who will try to resolve questions over Cherry's mental competency.

``I'm assuming that all the experts who did evaluations will testify,'' prosecutor Doug Jones said.

Defense attorney Mickey Johnson did not return calls seeking comment.

Eleven-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley were killed in the Sept. 15, 1963, blast at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

Cherry and ex-Klansman Thomas Blanton Jr. were indicted last year on charges they helped plant the bomb outside the church, a gathering place for civil rights activists during weeks of demonstrations against Birmingham's segregation laws of the time.

Blanton was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment on May 1.

Originally set to go on trial with Blanton, Cherry was granted a postponement until questions about his competency could be resolved.

Two evaluations earlier this year _ one for the defense and one for the court _ found Cherry incompetent to stand trial. But a third review conducted by two experts at the request of prosecutors found Cherry well enough to face charges that he helped bomb the church.

Under state law, Cherry must have a ``rational understanding'' of the case and the legal proceedings to be found competent. He also must be able to help his lawyers prepare the case.

If found competent, Cherry could go on trial within weeks. He could be committed to a state hospital for treatment if he's ruled incompetent for trial.

Johnson has confirmed the first two reviews diagnosed Cherry as having vascular dementia, a condition caused by diminished blood flow to the brain.

He has described Cherry as being easily confused about past events and unable to concentrate. Cherry has difficulty distinguishing his own memories from stories he hears, Johnson has said.
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