EX-KLANSMAN convicted in deadly 1963 church bombing begins appeals

Friday, May 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ A former Ku Klux Klansman convicted of murdering four black girls in a 1963 church bombing began his appeal Thursday, asking for a new trial.

Thomas Blanton Jr. challenged his conviction and sentence of life in prison on more than a dozen issues, including the trial judge's decision to let jurors listen to secretly recorded FBI tapes in which he was heard discussing a bombing.

Jury members said after the trial that the tapes were vital in their decision to convict Blanton for the Sept. 15, 1963, bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

Blanton, 62, also sought a new trial because no white men served on the jury that convicted him. The panel had eight white women, three black women and one black man.

Defense lawyer John Robbins also said the trial should have been moved from Birmingham, because of nearly four decades of heavy news coverage.

``The thrust of the appeal is really the tapes,'' Robbins said. ``I think that is what will get it overturned.''

The U.S. Supreme Court, the Alabama Supreme Court and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals all refused to consider Robbins' pretrial challenges of a tape made in Blanton's kitchen in 1964.

U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who prosecuted Blanton in state court under a special arrangement, was in Washington, D.C., and unavailable for comment, his secretary said.

Robbins said the prosecution's use of tapes secretly recorded in the 1960s will be the main issue as Blanton tries to overturn his conviction.

On one four-minute tape recording made in Blanton's kitchen in 1964, he was heard talking with his wife about going to a meeting under a river bridge where ``we planned the bomb.''

On another tape, Blanton was heard telling FBI informant Mitchell Burns he wouldn't be caught ``when I bomb my next church.''

Circuit Judge James Garrett let jurors hear the tapes over the objections of Robbins, who claimed the kitchen tape in particular violated Blanton's rights.

Since the tapes could not have been used as evidence when they were made, Robbins claimed, jurors should not have been allowed to hear them in 2001.

The judge ruled a 1968 change in federal law made the tapes available as evidence.